Paige Stegina | Managing Editor
The Fall of the House of Usher/ Netflix/ 2023
Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories are infused with eeriness and subtle horror and is known as a foundational figure in American literature. In early October, a new adaptation of Poe’s work reached the Netflix screen with Michael Flannigan’s television series, The Fall of the House of Usher. Mike Flanagan is most well known for his work on series such as The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, The Midnight Club, and Midnight Mass. Flanagan yet again brings a well-thought-out horror series that’s horrific and downright terrifying, while still retaining a cohesive plot and intriguing characters.
The series follows the Usher family, led by Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) and his twin sister Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell) as they run the corrupt Fortunato Pharmaceutical Company. The series, in time, reveals the background of these two characters and their rise in the company. Viewers are brought into the world of the Ushers. Their lavish lifestyle, their ambitious endeavors, as well as the strained relationship between the family members. This includes Roderick’s six children. The viewers are then introduced to the mysterious, powerful figure who appears to haunt the family, bringing death and destruction to the family.
The series has many strengths. Mike Flanagan relies on a strong cast to portray the corrupt and brutal nature of the Usher family and their world. Actors associated with his previous works, including Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Rahul Kohli, and Kate Siegel, are included in the series. Gugino’s performance in this series is particularly brilliant, a commanding presence, and is able to adapt her acting style right alongside her character as she weaves herself into the lives of each of the Ushers. Although it is not revealed until later episodes what the motivations behind Gugino’s are until later in the series, the actress is able to hold the viewers in suspense as the story unravels. As in many of Flanagan’s other television creations, a strength in the series is a combination of dialogue, monologues, and subtle yet suspenseful horror. There are many long-winded dialogue scenes. This is seen most with the entire story of the Ushers being told as the ‘confession’ of Roderick Usher to Assistant United States Attorney Carl Lumbly as he recounts his life.
The most intriguing aspect of the series needs to be how Flannigan adapts Poe for a modern-day setting. Although the overarching plot of the series is based on Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, each episode intertwines a different Poe story into the stories of the characters, as the Ushers face both their corrupt actions and the dark past that haunts them throughout the series. Poe’s most iconic stories and characters are reimagined as if they were to take place today. Without deteriorating into details, each member of the Usher family faces their own nightmarish Poe story. There are also easter eggs for the fans of Poe who have deep knowledge of both his works and his life.
With The Fall of the House of Usher, Mike Flanagan proves again that he is a mastermind when it comes to the horror television genre. More than this, the series brings the horror of Poe’s work back into the mainstream cultural mind. The powerful performance of each cast member, the writing, and the plot keep the viewers entranced and horrified at the same time. From this viewer’s perspective, the only drawback was the lack of background concerning Carla Gugino’s character Verna. Although this could perhaps be used as a springboard for a continuation of the series, it also added to the suspense of the series, not knowing the intricacies of her motivations and power. Overall, this series is a modern-day tribute to the true horror of Edgar Allen Poe’s work.