REVIEW: The Fall of the House of Usher (2023)
Overall, I don’t like horror films. Aside from old monster movies, I’ve never done this. I try to be open-minded, but horror and romance films rarely touch me. As a counter-example, I have often cited Jordan Peele’s recent films, in which the good writing and interesting characters transcend what I see as cheap scares and plots. For me, a big part of the problem is that films don’t scare me. For some reason, that aspect of filmmaking doesn’t work for me. So if I don’t like the characters, the story is DOA. Anyway, over the last year I’ve discovered that I also love Mike Flanagan’s work. I’m a little late to this party, but I’m glad to be here. I have an article about all of his Netflix series coming out on Halloween, but now I want to talk about his newest show for the platform. The Fall of the House of Usher. This is the first film I’ve watched completely new and without fear of spoilers, which is pretty exciting.
The Fall of the House of Usher is less an adaptation of its namesake and more the MCU equivalent of Edgar Allen Poe’s characters and storylines. Roderick and Madeleine Usher are two wealthy siblings in a crumbling empire, and to this extent the series borrows from the original short story. This doesn’t bother me and I’m not complaining, but when watching the show it’s best to adjust your expectations accordingly. Names of characters and companies as well as lines of dialogue are taken directly from Poe’s works. The Fall of the House of Usher (which I will call from now on House Usher) is a modern cautionary tale about the all-powerful Usher family, wealthy heads of the Fortunato Pharmaceutical empire. A bloody intersection ensues Succession And Stupid. Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) sits down with his former friend and long-time rival Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) to tell him how his six children died, confess to the crimes he has committed over the years, and… reveal what brought the family down this dark path. Through flashbacks and hallucinations, the audience is given a front-row view of decades of corruption, lasciviousness and possibly murder.
Kate Siegel talks about her character Camille L’Espanaye in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. pic.twitter.com/tbY9Au6Gix
— Mike Flanagan Source 🐦⬛ (@flanagansource) October 22, 2023
While much of the series’ events serve as a reckoning for Roderick and Madeleine’s (Mary McDonnell) misdeeds, it has to be said that things are seriously bad for Roderick’s children. Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan), mercifully named Tammy, is an emotionally limited, verbally abusive curmudgeon who decompresses by ordering her poor husband to have sex with strange women and watch. Prospero or Perry (Sauriyan Sapkota) gets involved in orgies with the rich and famous and curates portfolios in order to blackmail them later. Camille (Kate Siegel), Flanagan’s wife, forces her subordinates to commit crimes and sleep with her. Napoleon (Rahul Kohli) regularly cheats on his friend with fans, and worse, he loses consciousness and becomes violent. Frederick (Henry Thomas) seems harmless, if somewhat stupid, but cruelty simmers beneath his surface. Victorine (T’Nia Miller) also has a well-built, gentle shell that hides mistreatment of animals and a lack of professional ethics. When every Usher heir is ousted, you can’t help but think, “You know, he/she deserves this.” I was shocked when one sibling showed genuine concern or love for another, like Napoleon, who apparently really did took care of Peri and Camille. Roderick’s two legitimate children, Tammy and Freddie, call the others “the bastards”.
This show has a lot to say in eight episodes. One of the things that particularly stood out to me was the cycles a family can get stuck in. You intentionally or unintentionally pass on your own trauma, mental illness, etc. to your children. What really makes you rich or happy? How do these companies market poison to the masses? Why do we allow them? A scene I particularly like comes towards the end. Madeleine starts off with this speech, which at first sounds like the typical feminist abortion issue, but the show is smarter and more honest than that, so she soon shows her cards. Madeleine doesn’t care about women, contraception or the problems of poor people. It emerged in a time and industry marked by sexism. Nevertheless, as a narcissist and heartless businesswoman, she doesn’t care if others have to face similar hurdles. This is how I imagine those at the top. They may be female, minority, disabled, etc. But they have money and we don’t. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that they have the same problems or care about people like us. I love how the dialogue took me from rolling my eyes to silently nodding in agreement in under a minute.
The cast of House Usher is fantastic. Most of Flanagan’s regular collaborators are here, but we also have Bruce Greenwood (who starred). Gerald’s game for Flanagan), Mark Hamill, Carl Lumbly and more. The acting is above average throughout, but Hamill does an excellent job here in a very different role. I’ve seen/heard him play villains before, but none like Arthur Pym, the Ushers’ ruthless lawyer. Hamill has a very quiet, reserved scene at the beginning of Episode 3, “Murder in the Rue Morgue,” that really changes the tone of the series. To be honest, I was feeling overstimulated at this point. There’s a lot of noise, sex and swearing in the first two episodes. I have no moral problem with the stuff on TV, but I was overstimulated. This short scene flips the script and immediately tells the audience a lot about Pym. He is scheming, methodical and detail-oriented and will do anything to protect the Usher family.
The Ushers are all despicable, but that’s a testament to several other great performances. Tammy probably grossed me out the most. I know her husband didn’t cheat on her as she is basically a slut. But this stuff disgusts me and makes me angry. She treats him like crap during these sequences and in general; When “Candy” comes to visit instead of the usual girl, it’s the first time anyone asks Bill how he’s doing. Tammy believes that Bill only exists for her sick pleasure. I know it’s just TV, but things like this really make me angry. I was happy when Tammy died. Samantha Sloyan has appeared in several of these shows and has already shown this hateful she-devil prowess in 2021 midnight fair. Here, Tammy quickly goes from joy at the sight of Bill with these women to overwhelming jealousy. It’s unreasonable and makes me hate the character even more, but it’s a damn good performance.
The Fall of the House of Usher is extremely well written, acted and lit. I don’t often talk about lighting, but here it’s nothing short of striking. The show isn’t as subtle as Flanagan’s other works (that I’ve seen) and feels unnecessarily redundant at times. But overall I really liked it and can only recommend it. I have so much to say, but I’ll talk about it some more on Halloween.