This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Edgar Allen Poe and his works continue to be a great source of inspiration in the horror realm. Most referenced, arguably, is his short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” For what will likely be his final project (for now) with Netflix, Mike Flanagan takes this story along with a wide array of Poe’s works and incorporates it into a memorable horror tale that takes its time to sink its teeth into us.

The series boasts a large ensemble cast featuring Bruce Greenwood, Carla Gugino, Mary McDonnell, Carl Lumbly, Mark Hamill, Michael Trucco, T’Nia Miller, Paola Nuñez, Henry Thomas, Kyleigh Curran, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Kate Siegel, Sauriyan Sapkota, Zach Gilford, Willa Fitzgerald, Katie Parker, Malcolm Goodwin, Crystal Balint, Aya Furukawa, Daniel Jun, Matt Biedel, Ruth Codd, Annabeth Gish, Igby Rigney, and Robert Longstreet.

Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell) have built Fortunato Pharmaceuticals into a mega-corporation. Having spent decades evading legal action, it seems all things will be excused once more for them. That is until a bomb is dropped by C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) in the middle of the trial. This sets the stage for maximum tension within the Usher family. But just before they can breathe, a mysterious woman (Carla Gugino) from Roderick’s and Madeline’s youth starts hunting down the Usher heirs. Will they figure out who it is before it’s too late?

The exquisite horror of their reality

Carla Gugino as Verna in episode 102 l Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023
For those familiar with THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, the ending of the series is set in stone. The journey to get there is where the fun begins, but it takes time for things to click. The immersion into the world of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER isn’t seamless. It takes time to find its groove but, once it does, it hits like a ton of bricks. The fall is like a slow descent, but as the haunting realization can no longer be ignored, the boulder has picked up speed. There’s no stopping what’s to come.

For a tale steeped in inevitable doom and tragedy – Poe’s favorite little subjects – Flanagan paints a clear picture of how deserved the fall is, tragic collateral damage and all. Many of the Ushers are incredibly complicated, delectably unlikable, and easy to hate. While we get more time with some than others, each Usher gets their respective focus.

In some ways, each episode reads anthological despite the obvious. It is here we see how Flanagan weaves Poe’s other works in, forcing some to have to swipe away the mental cobwebs as we recall tales we long ago once read. It’s as if he took the anthological format from “The Midnight Club,” and built on what he learned from that format, creating something more cohesive in the process. Either way, what Flanagan has done with Poe’s works is clever and reminds us why his writing keeps hooking us in.

The scales are uneven in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER

Mark Hamill as Arthur Pym in episode 106 l Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023

Guiding us through the story of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is the grand ensemble of both new and returning actors from Flanagan’s works. There are limitations to what can be shared, but it isn’t up for debate that Carla Gugino completely devours every scene she is in. Regardless of the scenario, in every scene, she is in complete control, and it makes for mesmerizing viewing.

The rest of the cast delivered mixed performances, and it could be due to a mixture of development and acting. We get hints and pieces through the dialogue and storytelling about the first round of Usher victims, but we don’t get as much time to explore beneath the surface. So, we get more of a surface level with these characters compared to others later in the series.  With that said, there is an expectation that builds based on the audience’s perception of the first round of character deaths.

Things start to shift as we get more development and insight into the Ushers halfway through, and the performances feature more nuance and depth. Particularly, T’Nia Miller and Samantha Sloyan stand out with the multilayers they can build within their respective characters. This culminates in some heartbreaking and chilling scenes with both.

Veteran actors Mark Hamill, Bruce Greenwood, Mary McDonnell, and Carl Lumbly nail the more subtle approaches to their characters. There is no artifice their characters need to hide behind to prove anything, resulting in quieter, calmer performances that force the viewer to hone in.

All things must end

Bruce Greenwood as Roderick Usher l Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023

For those wondering whether THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is scary, there are several jump-scare moments and incredibly haunting scenes that will get many people.  However, the scare factor here is more cerebral. Money, success, fame, none of those things can protect you from the inevitable. Of the tales of Flanagan’s that dance toe-to-toe with themes of mortality, this one is a reminder to us all that wealth and prestige can only do so much. But all things must end. For better or worse.

Ambition surrounds Flanagan’s projects, and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is arguably one of the more ambitious ones. Taking a familiar Edgar Allen Poe tale and infusing it with less familiar works to create something cohesive and fresh is no small task. While it does take time to sink in and have things snap into place, it is a complicated, thorough piece that is uncomfortable, dark, and at times, a bit heavy-handed in delivery. Much like Poe’s own works.

All eight episodes of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER premiere exclusively on Netflix, Thursday, October 12, 2023.

TW: There is significant animal violence in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

Sarah Musnicky
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