“Once upon a midnight dreary …”
The next series coming to Netflix from Mike Flanagan tells you exactly what the series intends to show you during its eight episode stretch in just its title. The Fall of the House of Usher, created by Flanagan and inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, is another outstanding release for Flanagan, who continues his hot streak of series releases following The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Midnight Mass, and The Midnight Club.
The series primarily chronicles a two week period for the Usher family, centering on siblings Roderick and Madeline, often flashing back to moments from their earlier years to paint a full picture of the rise and fall of the House of Usher. In this short timeframe the family has to face decades worth of consequences for their horrific behavior, the consequences being far more imaginable than anyone could imagine.
Unlike Flanagan’s Netflix series that have come before, The Fall of the House of Usher is overwhelmingly an assembly of characters with very few redeeming qualities and even fewer characters to truly side with, the forces doling out consequences just as evil as the decimated House of Usher. Each member of the Usher family is , yet despite this as is common in Flanagan’s work, you find qualities about each character that convince you to pity them for the miserable, broken people they are. Fortunately, Flanagan is well aware of the characters he’s written, and there’s nothing in this script that asks you to forgive the Ushers for anything they’ve done, it only asks you to accept them as they are while on the screen.
In short, you’re watching the wealthy and wicked finally face the consequences of their selfishness and greed when you tune in for The Fall of the House of Usher.
As to be expected with any project attached to Flanagan, the writing in this series is just as haunting as the imagery, if not more-so. Building a modern world based on the works of Poe is no small feat and yet, as to be expected, Flanagan has delivered a series with absolutely zero questionable aspects. The pacing is brilliant — just over eight hours total for the full series encapsulates two weeks at a speed that feels right, and Flanagan can perfectly encapsulate decades of someone’s life in mere minutes and paint a full picture of his characters’ lives, allowing audiences to know them and to connect. In terms of world building, it’s hard for me to pinpoint someone other than Flanagan who does so with such authenticity. Each detail is precisely added so each shot can be exactly what he wants to be.
Flanagan is truly and thoroughly a master at his craft. In The Fall of the House of Usher, he continues exploring the complexities and oddities of the human condition and the grief, trauma and sometimes beauty in death. Flanagan always showcases deep respect for all walks of life, and this series is no exception to that precedent from him. If you’re tuning into the series with the hopes to hear familiar words from Poe and see his melancholy, twisted, you won’t be disappointed, as Flanagan clearly has a respect and admiration for the famous writer and poet’s work that makes him the perfect person to be inspired by Poe.
The series continues the tradition of Flanagan projects with a soundtrack that will immediately worm its way into your head — even as I type this review I have one of the songs spinning in the depths of my brain. But the soundtrack isn’t the only musical win, the original score composed by The Newton Brothers only building the suspense and trepidation, adding to the overall atmosphere.
At the top of the food chain in terms of the cast are three uncontested characters — Roderick Usher, Madeline Usher, and Verna. Bruce Greenwood stepped into the role of Roderick later than the rest of the cast comparatively, taking over the role from the original cast member when they were removed. Beyond the fact that the original actor deserved to be fired, Greenwood is absolutely flawless as the primary, modern Roderick, providing line delivery after line delivery that is truly a showcase of acting at its finest. Monologues from Greenwood never feel like they’ve gone on for a second too long, and in fact, there are several moments within the episodes you’ll find yourself wishing he could go on even longer.
And then there’s the twin sister to Roderick, the cunning, calculative Madeline Usher portrayed by Mary McDonnell. There’s not much for me to say about McDonnell’s performance other than there were line deliveries that made me gasp, deliveries that made me speechless, and scenes that I wish I could give her a standing ovation for. Madeline is, of course, terrible … as I’ve mentioned already, all of the Ushers are. But there is always something so fun about watching a woman be terrible specifically, and McDonnell has proven that she is a master at playing a powerful, influential, and downright venomous woman.
It would be amiss not to mention the actors who portrayed the younger versions of these characters, particularly Zach Gilford and Willa Fitzgerald, who both add additional layers to their respective characters that are necessary to understand the people we see them as in the modern era.
Carla Gugino, a frequent Flanagan collaborator and an absolute powerhouse addition to this cast specifically, portrays Verna. Her scenes are outright mesmerizing, her line delivery and dulcet tone rendering you into a sense of comfort even as horrific events begin to unfold.
Beyond these three characters and their actors are a couple more standouts that deserve special recognition in The Fall of the House of Usher. The iconic Mark Hamill as Arthur Pym carries an air of mystery about him that will leave audiences begging to know more about him, and Carl Lumbly as C. Auguste Dupin is one of few characters offered for audiences to root for, his chemistry in scenes with Greenwood absolutely electric.
And then, of course, there are the children … each more vile and vicious than the last, with incredible cast additions Samantha Sloyan, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Rahul Kohli, T’Nia Miller, and Sauriyan Sapkota bringing the Usher heirs to screen victoriously. The supporting cast all carry their weight as well, providing characters that add depth to the Ushers, that foil them, and that make the evils the family has carried out over decades stand out and show that not only are the Ushers cutthroat when it comes to business, but in their personal lives as well. Truly, this is a cast performance as a whole that I could easily talk about for much longer than anyone wants to read it.
It’s a shame that projects with any amount of horror are largely ignored when it comes to awards, because this series is successful from every angle — writing, editing, cinematography, acting, score … each aspect of The Fall of the House of Usher culminates to build a series worth acclaim. Additionally, the series isn’t truly a horror series. These eight episodes are a drama, a folktale — a warning to those consuming every minute that actions have consequences, that selfishness and greed are caustic, that wealth is so much more than the size of your bank account, and much more, with horrific consequences assigned to those who never learned these lessons to drive the point home. It is beautiful, tragic, horrific, and exploratory of the human condition in ways that linger and beg you to heed the lessons its characters did not.
At the time of writing this I am already on my third watch of the season, eager to revisit scenes that are already haunting the corners of my mind and calling me to return for more.
The Fall of the House of Usher premieres October 12 on Netflix. Check back with Nerds & Beyond for episodic recaps for the series.