The Fall of the House of Usher is the latest from Mike Flanagan.
Fans of Mike Flanagan’s horror series on Netflix have had something to feast on nearly every Halloween season since 2018. This year is no different, as the newest series, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ has eight episodes now streaming. Several of Flanagan’s series have been based on famous horror literature, such as ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’ (‘The Turn of the Screw’), and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is no different. While ‘Usher’ takes its name from just one of Edgar Allen Poe‘s works, the series is like catnip for fans of Poe’s entire bibliography. Each episode title and character name is from the work of Poe, and the series is littered with easter eggs.
The series centers on Roderick Usher, played by Bruce Greenwood.
He is the patriarch of the Usher family who, alongside twin sister Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell), runs Fortunato Pharmaceuticals, which mostly thrives on the sales of opioids. All of Roderick’s six children have just met their untimely demise within the span of a week or so, and Roderick is now confessing a lifetime of sins to C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly), the Assistant U.S. Attorney whose life mission has been to bring Roderick Usher and Fortunato to justice. One of Dupin’s main adversaries is Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill), the Usher’s lead attorney, who has managed to keep the family clean through years of scandals.
From here, the show portrays a series of flashbacks leading up to the death of each Usher child, which are all played out in a uniquely spectacular and gruesome fashion. We won’t share any of those deaths here – half the fun of the show is waiting in anticipation to see how each death occurs. Every episode lets you get to know the kids a little better: Frederick (Henry Thomas) and Tamarlane (Samantha Sloyan) are the eldest children and most business-minded; Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel), one of Roderick’s illegitimate children, is the snappy head of public relations for Fortunato; Victorine (T’Nia Miller), Napoleon (Rahul Kohli) and Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota) are three of Roderick’s illegitimate children who utilize their father’s wealth to propel themselves forward in varying ways.
And lingering in the shadows is the mysterious Verna, played by Carla Gugino. She somehow weaves her way into every Usher child’s story in some form or fashion. We also see younger versions of Roderick and Madeline, played by Zach Gilford and Willa Fitzgerald. This is when the audience learns exactly how they ascended up the Fortunato ladder.
Nearly every cast member has appeared in Flanagan’s previous shows or films.
They are all clearly at home in the gothic horror atmosphere that Flanagan excels at. It’s worth noting that Flanagan split directorial duties here, with Michael Fimognari directing half of the episodes of the series. Despite taking alternating stabs at directing, the show still maintains a consistent tone and imagery throughout.
The set-up is terrific, with the first couple of episodes which were screened at Fantastic Fest 2023.
It sets up the family dynamics perfectly and illustrates just how far the show creators will go to showcase a Usher’s demise. However, the middle of the series starts to fall into a bit of a lull, as the viewer is really just wading through monologues and plot to see the next big death sequence. By the fourth or fifth episode, we’ve grasped the plot and really want to figure out why this is all happening. That being said, the performances across the board are all great. They keep you invested enough despite some of the pacing issues. Gugino and Hamill are particularly great and manage to steal the scene at every turn.
I give The Fall of the House of Usher 4 out of 5 stars. Despite falling victim to some pacing issues, the plot and performances are worth the eight-hour investment the show requests. Some genuine horrors and creative death sequences are worth the price of admission, which, luckily, is the cost of the Netflix subscription you’re likely already paying for.