Remember the heart-wrenching and terrifying narrative of The Haunting of Hill House, or the unbelievable love story in The Haunting of Bly Manor? The Fall of the House of Usher is a surely terrifying gothic horror, but that’s where similarities end. The show, based on the works of the legendary Edgar Allan Poe, is the wildest, most diabolically luscious show from Mike Flanagan yet. The director returns this spooky season with another outstanding series packed with exceptional performances, as we are bestowed a narrative about generational curses and abuse of power—all that and unreserved gore.
Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell) are a sibling powerhouse. The intelligent developers of Fortunato Pharmaceuticals live in wealth, privilege, and entitlement thanks to the Ligodone—a drug advertised as non-addictive, though it’s everything but. With every legal battle they face (and there are many), the aid is provided by one Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill), a man with a dark history.
Some say that DNA doesn’t make a family, but love and connection do. Roderick would respectfully disagree. For him, his biological children, albeit from different mothers, are everything—amongst them are Frederick (Henry Thomas) and Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan) as well as “the Usher bastards”: Victorine (T’Nia Miller), Napoleon “Leo” (Rahul Kohli), Camille (Kate Siegel), and Prospero “Perry” (Sauriyan Sapkota). With their father’s money and influence, all of them grew to be extremely clever, sexual, and driven but also rotten, privileged, and greedy humans. They all are different, but most agree on one thing: the dislike towards their father’s new, much younger wife, Juno (Ruth Codd).
In a way, the Usher family represents everything we, ordinary people, hate about this world—a lineage with too much influence in the contemporary world, getting nearly everything for free while many are hurt and die. As the audience gets to know each Usher, the creators unravel the darkest secrets of the powerful siblings, especially as the Usher successors start dying, supposedly at the hands of the mystery woman (Carla Gugino) who keeps appearing at the scenes of the murders
Flanagan is a master storyteller. With each character more complex and more decayed than the previous one, we discern an unraveling of the titular Usher family, surrounded by secrets and sins. This time, the man behind Doctor Sleep focuses on the carnal pleasures and human sins as his characters are presented as flawed beyond repair. The creators have a clear goal for the audience—to show the Ushers for who they really are. Each sibling, with their father and Madeline at the forefront, represents something awful and corrupt about this world. One spends his family’s money, partying and getting high, another kills animals in “the name of science.” We aren’t supposed to feel bad for them. We want to see them pay. Once the Usher siblings start dying one by one, we cannot look away.
It’s also no surprise that we start to cheer for a peculiar albeit fascinating, mysterious woman appearing in places where slayings transpire. The fact that Gugino’s character is unreservedly petrifying, and her Verna is delightfully dark is an understatement. One of the best aspects of her storyline is many theories about her that circle in one’s mind through each episode. You want to solve the mystery behind the character and unravel her identity. Who is she and why is she after the entire Usher family?
Flanagan and writer/director, Michael Fimognari, each give us 4 episodes in The Fall of the House of Usher. The show includes another layered narrative, one that expands across two timelines and keeps viewers continuously wondering. The slow burn continues as we shakenly follow each narrative thread. Almost every episode ends with a cliffhanger or newfound questions that make us want to see and learn more. But this time, we aren’t terrified of the real-life horrors, like dying without leaving anything behind, similar to The Haunting of Bly Manor. This time, we revel in hate. We’re terrified of how much we hate the titular family and want to see them pay. The show’s creators weave a narrative about the generational curse, how hard it is to break free from a life sheathed in sin, and that there is always a choice to make, even in the hardest of situations.
In a way, this erudite family drama and a gruesome horror series in one may remind you somewhat of Succession and the show’s legendary Roy family, as they live surrounded by money. Amongst the siblings in The Fall of the House of the Usher, particularly coked-up Leo gives that “Kendall” energy. But if you think it’s just like Succession, you’ll be sorely mistaken. Horrid, fear-inducing scenes will plague your mind and you’ll remember them when you’re lying down and trying to sleep. One, specifically, leaves an acidic taste in your mouth.
When it comes to the ensemble, we see some of Flanagan’s muses, such as Kohli, Sloyan, Miller, or Siegel. However, the audience will also be charmed by the newcomers in the “Flanagan-verse”—Greenwood and McDonnell. Each cast member is engrossing and integral to the story as they all masterfully portray the violent, mighty family. Kohli and Miller present very intriguing characters, especially in contrast to what we’ve seen before from them. After the calm and collected Ms. Gross and pun-loving Owen from Bly Manor, we now see utterly different characters. Both actors prove their versatile skills as Victorine and Leo and further provoke conversions on drug abuse and animal rights in the eyes of science. McDonnell also deserves special attention. As Madeline, the Oscar and Emmy-nominated actress delivers multidimensional performance, sometimes being even more terrifying and determined than Gugino’s Verna.
Additionally, as befits a modern and stylish adaptation of Poe’s works, the latest Netflix series is full of symbolism. If one pays special attention, some elements in the plot foreshadow what’s to come in the lives of the Usher family in an astonishing, thought-provoking, and spine-chilling conclusion.
The Fall of the House of Usher is a masterwork in storytelling and yet another example of Flanagan’s irresistible talent. This show, especially its bloody moments, will be remembered as more shocking and wilder than Flanagan’s previous work, so will the performances of each cast member. The creators ensure that, if not the incredible acting, then perhaps the series’ concise composition and, especially, the gratifying finale, will delight and shock the audience to the core. A perfect position for the Halloween season!
The Fall of the House of Usher will premiere on Netflix on October 12.
Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023