Mike Flanagan has become one of the undisputed Kings of Horror with his work on films like Doctor Sleep and Gerald’s Game along with Netflix originals such as Midnight Mass and The Haunting of Hill House. He truly has come a long way making his name in the horror genre, but his most recent project, The Fall of the House of Usher may just be his best as he brings to life the short story written by the classic Edgar Allan Poe.
The Usher Family are pharmaceutical giants, leading the way in terms of wealth and prosperity. With their family’s patriarch Roderick (played by Bruce Greenwood) at the helm along with his 6 children Frederick (played by Henry Thomas), Tamerlane (played by Samantha Sloyan), Camille (played by Kate Siegel), Leo (played by Rahul Kohli), Perry (played by Sauriyan Sapkota), and Victorine (played by T’Nia Miller). But soon, the Usher children begin dropping like flies one after the other, leading for Roderick and his sister, Madeline (played by Mary McDonnell), to confront their darkest secrets in the form of Verna (played by Carla Gugino).
I sorta knew what I was getting into with The Fall of the House of Usher since I'm pretty familiar with some of Mike Flanagan’s earlier work like Hush, Doctor Sleep, and Gerald’s Game. All 3 of which have some element of slow burn suspense to them and their own level of terror. Even though I was unfamiliar with Edgar Allan Poe’s short story the show is based on, his literature in gothic horror is legendary. The atmosphere truly felt out of a Poe story as the tension built and built to a crescendo each episode, managing to capture madness in its rawest form. I mean, most of the Usher family wasn’t mentally stable to begin with but after the death of an Usher, every sibling's psyche deteriorated a little more. With almost all wielding the weapon of their own destruction. Except for Lenore Usher, who definitely had the gentlest death in the series, even managing to bring Verna herself to tears.
Each death felt reminiscent of Final Destination in a way as each death was either ruled an accident or suicide, but each one became more graphic than the last. Now Flanagan is no stranger to using gore in any of his films, but for the most part he uses them sparingly to allow the story and atmosphere to engage the viewer. While House of Usher is no different, he used quite a bit more in this one than the previous works I have witnessed. The gore itself is still used to great effect and is never taken for granted, what with Perry’s horrific death by literal acid rain to Frederick’s medieval torture death, it was all left on the table.
As I said in a previous paragraph, I said each Usher’s death resulted in almost all of the Ushers going a little more insane than the last. This was evident in the entire casts’ performances. It is hard to single out just one performance from the Usher clan, as each one brings a different dimension of despicable to the table. As the story progressed though, each character still remained vile, but became a little more pitiable as the pressure of pleasing the Usher patriarch began to weigh on them, with this being particularly evident in Samantha Sloyan and T’Nia Miller’s performances. Along with Bruce Greenwood really bringing out the vile business man making peace with his regrets catching up to him.
Now I said it was hard to single out a particular performance from the Usher clan, but I didn’t say the entire cast. As Carla Gugino’s Verna is on a different plane of existence. Gugino managed to blend together the hubris that comes from being an immortal supernatural entity that embodies Death while also maintaining a large chunk of humanity. Especially when it comes to each person Verna interacts with, most of the Usher clan gets what seems one final plea for redemption as their demises loom closer, just in an attempt to make the end easier. In fact, she shows an amount of vindictive pettiness when Frederick’s death comes around, as Verna opted for a more hands on approach when his time came; as well as a warmth and sorrow when Lenore’s heartbreaking death came to be as Lenore was the best of all the Ushers. It was a complex take on what easily could’ve been a one dimensional character.
The Fall of the House of Usher is another instant classic from the horrific mind of Mike Flanagan. With a story that thrills as much as it breaks your heart. Its gothic atmosphere mixed with its slow burn terror and some well crafted jumpscares made for an eerie and entertaining viewing experience you can’t get enough of. Not to mention the whole cast truly giving it their all with almost no one stealing the spotlight from the rest of the cast. Unless you’re Carla Gugino as Verna and bring depth to a character that could have easily been a one note character in the wrong hands. Let’s not forget about the gruesome sometimes heartbreaking deaths and its vivid imagery to keep you on your toes. Mix all of this together, you have a bingeable series that can be enjoyed every Halloween!