Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 11th, 2023
The Fall of the House of Usher (Mike Flanagan, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
In the midst of spooky-season October comes Mike Flanagan’s newest horror series, of which episodes 1 and 2 (out of 8) premiered at this year’s Fantastic Fest. After his success with Midnight Mass and the two Haunting series (Hill House and Bly Manor), Flanagan tackles the works of one of the greatest American authors, Edgar Allen Poe, to weave a gripping narrative about the wealthy, superpowered Usher family. They are maliciously visited by a vengeful spirit one by one, facing impending doom.
As they watch their family and business slowly crumble, Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood, The Post) and his sister, Madeline (Mary McDonnell, TNT’s Major Crimes series), must come to grips with the choices they’ve made in their lives, which are the same ones that have led to this fateful, family curse. Thus spins out a narrative that impressively works not only as a short series, but also as a horror-filled drama worthy of Fantastic Fest. The Fall of the House of Usher beautifully meshes Poe’s classic tales with a modern, 21st-century aesthetic and character exploration.
Each of the Usher children have distinct personalities, skills, and characteristics that keep them unique and engaging (thanks to a highly effective supporting cast). The show has immense attention to production design, working with various locations, sets, costuming, and makeup that vividly complement the rest. Every episode is a warning, a foreshadowing of what fate awaits the next Usher family victim.
The show’s only true failure (or “fall”) lies in its occasional conventional predictability. For any avid Poe fans, each episode spells itself out a little too well, and the overall outcome of the series leads exactly where the viewer expects. The Fall of the House of Usher does less to try to shock the viewer with its resolution, and rather guides them through the process, often through the lens of Verna (Carla Gugino, Gunpowder Milkshake). She’s the “Pied Piper” of the show, coming to collect from the Usher family, with each death scene and tragedy gripping the viewer. Take that away, though, and Flanagan’s narrative is highly formulaic.
While the show may not touch upon any surprising or insightful themes, it is still a fresh take on Poe’s works, capturing the fright, terror, and also the vengeance found in them. Much how Poe liked to end his stories, justice is served to the wrongdoers here, which is quite possibly the greatest way Flanagan pays homage to the master. For Poe fans, there is plenty of the macabre and gothic to keep us invested. It is both grounded and terrifying.