The Fall of the House of Usher - Fantastic Fest World Premiere
Director: Mike Flanagan, Michael Fimognari
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Carl Lumbly, Mary McDonnell, Henry Thomas, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, Kate Siegel, Mark Hamill, Ruth Codd, T'Nia Millar, Carla Gugino, Willa Fitzgerald, Zach Gilford, Sauriyan Sapkota
Written by: Mike Flanagan, Justina Ireland, Jamie Flanagan, Dani Parker, Emmy Grinwis, Matt Johnson, Rebecca Klingel, Kiele Sanchez
Produced by: Trevor Macy, Mike Flanagan, Emmy Grinwis, Michael Fimognari
Cinematography by: Michael Fimognari
Original Score by: Taylor Stewart
Roderick and Madeline Usher have built Fortunato Pharmaceuticals into an empire of wealth, privilege and power. But past secrets come to light when the heirs to the Usher dynasty start dying at the hands of a mysterious woman from their youth.
I have to start this review by pointing out that despite the title of Mike Flanagan's new Netflix series, this is not solely based on that one short story of the same name by Gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe. Most of you reading this will probably already be aware of that fact. Instead, the whole series pulls plot points and story arcs from numerous Poe works and cleverly intertwines them together to create a brand new story that both mystifies and horrifies and like all of Flanagan's projects, leaves you with a big smile on your face and wanting more.
Each episode is named after one of Poe's famous poems or short stories with an element of the premise being featured to some extent and names and places referring to locations and characters that Poe created throughout his career.
The crux of the story is about the Usher family (obviously) referred to here early on as America's "crime family", who have been indicted by the U.S. Government and are finally sitting trial for, amongst other things, pharmaceutical malpractice that caused the death of tens of thousands of innocent people. Roderick and Madeline Usher co-own Fortunato Pharmaceuticals and have become one of the richest and most powerful siblings in the world. The series begins with Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) calling his old friend and prosecutor in the case C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) to confess his crimes in the wake of the unfathomable death of all 6 of his children. The series then jumps through timelines piecing together the Usher puzzle but focussing on each child and their respective deaths and always returning to the present meeting between Roderick and Dupin.
As with most of Mike's projects before this, nothing is as it seems and there's plenty of mysteries to solve along the way full of ghostly apparitions, brutal deaths and brilliantly terrifying storytelling. Oh and it's a wee bit horny too.
If you're a fan of Edgar Allan Poe's work then it should be absolutely impossible not to love what Flanagan has done here. Yes it's contemporary. Yes there are liberties taken. And yes it's not a straight up adaptation of anything in particular, however it is blatantly obvious the love and respect Flanagan has for Poe and his enduring stories and characters, some of which helped to shape entire sub-genres. It's also deeply satisfying to find out along the way how he and his writing team incorporate all the different characters into the various pieces of work. Some are obscure easter eggs and some are more obvious than others but it's fun either way.
I cannot stress enough how impressive the cast are here and just how much they all bring to their characters. Flanagan has a habit of recasting actors he has worked with before and this time he basically brings back everybody who worked on his previous limited television shows and/or feature films including some of the younger cast from his most recent project 'The Midnight Club'. It is a testament to him just how much he believes and trusts his actors and also always gives me the sense that this now very large group of overtly talented people are all quite tight with each other and friends in real life. It just very obviously helps to propel each performance and gives me a lovely fuzzy feeling seeing them all onscreen together.
It's difficult to single out any particular performance as the whole group really work phenomenally well as an ensemble, however I have to mention Carl Lumbly and Bruce Greenwood, who as a pair really are the two who steer the entire ship in the right direction. It's the fantastic connection they share during their extensive conversation (Roderick's confession) that holds the whole narrative together.
So is the actual story any good? Well yes obviously. It's very good. So good in fact that I felt myself literally sitting on the edge of my seat at times waiting for the next scene to happen. It helps that I'm a huge fan of Mike's previous work and I adore each and every one of the cast on show here (hi Kate Siegel, Samantha Sloyan and Rahul Kohli) The depth of the writing is impressive and the pacing and structure of each episode flows so well.
Compared to something like 'Midnight Mass' or even 'The Midnight Club' this is definitely a bit more over the top and fantastical from a set piece, storytelling and even acting point of view. That's not a bad thing. Kate Siegel is clearly having a boat load of fun being more bitchy and acrimonious than her usual roles. In fact everyone gets their chance to ham it up a bit more at times. I really enjoyed Mark Hamill's no nonsense gestapo-like lawyer Arthur Pym.
There's some real life modern themes addressed throughout the series like domestic abuse, big company corruption, the obsession with power, manipulation and gaslighting and ultimately the core theme of the show is about greed versus happiness. I thoroughly enjoyed how Mike and team weaved a lot of that into the structure of the story. Ironically there's an obvious commentary about the use of A.I. which has become somewhat of an obsession for Madeline Usher.
And there's plenty of humour mixed in amongst all the macabre so while it perhaps doesn't quite have the profoundly, emotional resonance that 'Mass' or 'Hill House' have, it is still spectacularly entertaining and a fitting send off for Flanagan as he readies his return to the world of Stephen King and knuckles down to work on what is sure to be his magnum opus 'The Dark Tower'.
- Gavin Logan
'The Fall of the House of Usher' received its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest '23 and will land on Netflix October 12th