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The Fall of the House of Usher - Review: Amid no earthly moans, a mystery of mysteries!

21 Oct 2023

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Spoilers ahead!

What would you do if a stranger made you an offer too good to be true and too tempting to be rejected? A proposal that could alter the whole course of your life — everything you ever wanted would be yours, seemingly at no cost. Sure, everything comes with a price; but this time, you wouldn’t be the one to pay it. 

When a mysterious bartender meets Roderick and Madeline Usher during a New Year’s Eve party and makes them a suspiciously perfect offer, the pair of ambitious, scheming siblings see the opportunity to build an empire — one they’ve been fighting for long before that night. 

But that’s the ending. The show opens with a funeral years later. Roderick Usher, the man behind Fortunato Pharmaceuticals, has lost his six children; haunted by eerie hallucinations, mostly guilty ones, he is on the brink of insanity. 

Late at night, Assistant US Attorney C. Auguste Dupin receives a strange invitation: his long-time nemesis Roderick is ready to confess everything, every single one of the crimes committed by him, his family, and everyone around them. All Dupin has to do is meet Roderick at his childhood house, a decrepit, dark structure that’s about to fall — just like the trembling Usher empire.

Throughout its 8 episodes, Roderick tells his story to Auguste. He goes back to his childhood with his sister and tells the events that led to both of his parents dramatically dying, he tells the happiness and the downfall of his marriage with Annabel Lee, he confesses to the crimes he committed with Madeline during that New Year’s Eve, the deal they settled with Verna, and how every member of the Usher family met their destiny in the hands of a darkling supernatural being in the last two weeks.

Vaguely based on the short story of the same name and encompassing many tales and poems by Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher is a blast! Darkly comedic, exaggerated, beautifully colorful, and absolutely maniac in all the right ways, time flew as I watched and rewatched the whole thing and made it my new obsession. As usual, it might not be everyone's cup of tea — but if you enjoyed other Flanagan works for Netflix, such as the Haunting shows and Midnight Mass, this will probably fit your taste as well.

It feels a bit repetitive in the first half, especially during its third and fourth episodes — the structure repeats itself, as we watch small doses of younger versions of Madeline and Roderick plotting against Rufus Griswold, Fortunato’s CEO in 1979; brief scenes of the New Year’s Eve; and Ushers dying horribly in gory, unusual ways after pushing away their loved ones and mentally spiraling. Also, almost every episode has a moment that consists of Roderick talking to Dupin, then being loudly interrupted by the ghost of the Usher whose death we’re about to watch (there's a nice joke about it in episode 7.) All of this to say that this one might be less binge-watchable — given its structure, it works better when you don’t rush it and savor one death at a time, being hit with all the fun and despair they bring.

About the cast, it’s one of its strengths — everyone shines on their roles. Especially Carla Gugino as Verna, the mystical shapeshifter who comes after the Usher family to execute fate. There’s nothing she can’t do, bringing rage, horror, craziness, a bit of sadism but also some necessary tenderness as her character fulfills her mission. Also brilliant in their roles, Mary McDonnell and Willa Fitzgerald as Madeline Usher and her young version, respectively — oh boy, they are mesmerizing. It’s hard to look away when they are on screen, with their bitterness, sarcasm, and sharp lines. Bruce Greenwood does wonders as the old Roderick Usher slowly losing his mind — I mean, he’s so good in this that I find it hard to believe that he was an emergency recast mid-filming; this role was meant to be his. Carl Lumbly is also strong as Dupin, listening to all the crazy stuff Roderick tells him and serving as a moral counterpoint — the true richest man of the world. Ruth Codd, Samantha Sloyan, T’Nia Miller, and Malcolm Goodwin are highlights as well, bringing to the screen performances that are either hilarious, terrifying, or amusing.

Anyway, this show has some incredible moments, including the standout ones below that are worth mentioning:
  • Tamerlane's death was so visually beautiful and poetic! The mirrors! The whole “you will never hit anyone as hard as you hit yourself” thing! And the green light, of course: stunning!
  • Verna as the Red Death ROCKS! When she enters the party during the whole Wicked Game sequence followed by her dialogue with Perry and that gruesome ending — such a cool adaptation of The Masque of the Red Death.
  • But no adaptation was as surprising as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which haunts me still. Victorine is a great character, probably my favorite Usher sibling out of the six, so this whole episode was fire.
  • Verna and Arthur Pym talking: such a wonderful scene! Did I mention the Verna and Madeline scene as well? Great chemistry, I was hooked the entire time. Of course, Verna and Lenore: a heartbreaking, touching moment that was followed by that insane adaptation of The Raven poem.
  • Roderick at the funeral. Annabel Lee haunts him. Compass by The Newton Brothers starts playing. Harsh words are said. Katie Parker, so convincing in this role of someone so beautiful inside and so heartbroken at the same time. Greenwood, acting here as someone contemplating what could have been. One of my favorite moments of this show.
  • Needless to say, the final conversation between Roderick and Madeline was incredibly written. This story was theirs from the start, and Madeline's entire monologue, followed by her brother trying to make her eternal, until it all comes back to the beginning with their mother and she rises from the dead to take revenge on Roderick while the house of Usher falls apart — a masterpiece.
Great journey, as usual — the Halloween season is always richer and funnier with the release of a Flanagan show. Loved every second of it. And I surely will be seated for anything created by Flanagan and his team in the years to come.

The Fall of the House of Usher is streaming on Netflix. Thanks for reading!