Mike Flanagan veers back to the supernatural realm with this grisly, yet satisfying miniseries based on works by Edgar Allan Poe.
At this point, it wouldn’t be spooky season if we didn’t see a release from Mike Flanagan around this time. While the jack-of-all-trades talent (writer, director, showrunner) eventually will take some time to relax, it’s remarkable to look back on his career while always looking forward to the next project he gets his hands on. From the Haunting anthology series that catapulted his career to adapting Stephen King, he now gets his hands on The Fall of the House of Usher, which is based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe (along with other works from the famed author mixed in). Adapting stories from one of horror’s greatest authors, Flanagan’s latest (and last) collaboration with Netflix cements his legacy as one of the streamer’s most vital talents to help put their service on the map. From the first episode until the show’s very end, The Fall of the House of Usher is endlessly absorbing, disturbing, and sometimes gratifying. Even if viewers may think they know how this story will end very early on, they actually won’t until the credits roll at the end of episode eight thanks to Flanagan’s impeccable talent as a storyteller.
The Fall of the House of Usher tells the story of the Usher family and its head, Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), who is the CEO of a pharmaceutical company that’s under the microscope because of the on-going opioid crisis. When the pharmaceutical company is taken to court in a high-profile case, Usher’s children begin to die one by one in unfathomable manners. Usher and his twin sister, Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell) try to figure out who is targeting them. However, it isn’t long until their pasts begin to come to the surface, slowly revealing what turned them into the monsters they presently are and providing some explanation as to why these unfortunate events are happening to the Usher children.
Minutes into the first episode, viewers may wonder about what exactly the purpose of the series is, as we see that all the children are dead. But being that it’s Flanagan we’re talking about here, he lets this story play out over multitudes of flashbacks that viewers are intended to piece together. In addition to the macabre series events surrounding the children that give us a glimpse into how the twins grew to power, viewers will be shocked by the way they are depicted individually from the time they were born until they take their final earthly breaths (and believe me, some of the final moments may make you squirm or look away). Sure, viewers of Flanagan’s work might not be as jumpy here, but there are still plenty of horrifying aspects that go beyond the deaths of the Usher children. From the children themselves, who demonstrate who Usher actually is to the manner in which Roderick Usher himself handles the pharmaceutical company that has played a role in the opioid crisis, you likely will find yourself rooting for his day of reckoning. And certain moments carry on from episode to episode that keep certain mysteries afloat. So, just when you think you know it all, Flanagan waves his finger and says, “Nuh uh” and keeps you entrenched right up until the very end.
The Fall of the House of Usher may not only be Flanagan’s strongest cast ever, but it makes a strong case for his best cast of performances in a project he’s ever done. If you’re familiar with Flanagan’s work, you will notice more than several recurring actors here in various roles. In fact, five of the six children of Roderick Usher have played in various Flanagan projects, including Kate Siegel, Henry Thomas, Samantha Sloyan, T’Nia Miller, and Rahul Kohli. All these actors (including newcomer Sauriyan Sapkota, who plays the sixth child) are great in their respective roles, especially when episodes singularly focus on them. But the standouts of this miniseries start from the top, with underrated actors Bruce Greenwood and Mary McDonnell as the Usher twins giving two of the best performances of their careers. Viewers also will keep guessing about Flanagan veteran Carla Gugino, who plays the mysterious Verna at the center of the story as she delivers one of her best performances of her career. It’s also worth mentioning that the actors who play the two attorneys for and against the Usher family are outstanding, including Carl Lumbly and the beloved Mark Hamill.
Some may find the story of The Fall of the House of Usher a bit on the nose with its focus on a family tied to the opioid crisis or even its very brief talk about artificial intelligence. Regardless, Flanagan weaving Poe’s works beyond the House of Usher story (and viewers familiar with Poe’s work are certain to catch them quite often) into a modernized story makes for an enticing (and also frightening) journey from start to finish and find it to be just the right thing to counter the malnourishment they may have been feeling for new horror at this time.
The strength of this series is a fitting tribute to Edgar Allan Poe and goes to show that he is still the master of the macabre 170-plus years after his death.