The Fall of the House of Usher, Mike Flanagan’s most recent Netflix project, is based on a collection of works by Edgar Allan Poe. The Usher family, headed up by twins Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell), own a large pharmaceutical company called Fortunato that makes a boatload of money from a “nonaddictive” opioid. Roderick’s progenies have roles at the company, making it a true family business and a collection of terrible people. There are two factions within his gaggle of thoroughly horrible offspring: the legitimate children, Frederick (Henry Thomas) and Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan), then the bastards: Victorine (T’Nia Miller), Camille (Kate Siegel), Napoleon “Leo” (Rahul Kohli), and Prospero “Perry” (Sauriyan Sapkota). Fortunato and the Usher family are being sued in federal court, yet again, by US Attorney Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly). The Ushers aren’t worried though because their lawyer, Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill), always gets them out of it.
But now the Usher children are dead, and only Roderick, Madeline, and granddaughter Lenore (Kyliegh Curran) remain. Roderick invites Dupin, with whom he has a complicated history, to his decrepit childhood home, “upon a midnight dreary,” to tell the story of his numerous crimes throughout the years and to reveal that he was responsible for the deaths of his children. Each of Roderick’s children died in strange but ultimately explainable events, confusing Dupin as to why Roderick felt responsible. Roderick goes through lengthy explanations of each death, peppering in events of his past throughout and the multiple appearances of the mysterious Verna (Carla Gugino).
The series bounces back and forth between this dreary night in the creepy house of the Ushers and the events that led to each family member’s demise using all of Poe’s best-known works. The characters are largely tripping, whether from being on drugs or under some mysterious influence. The foreshadowing is pretty heavy throughout, and if you know Poe’s works, you know how the selected family member of the episode dies, just based on the episode titles.
The heavy foreshadowing is both a good and bad thing. Good, because foreshadowing is a very effective story-telling device. But it is also bad because it can give too much away. I nearly stopped watching after the second episode, Masque of the Red Death, because it was a little too on the nose and predictable. Ultimately, I continued when I realized the next episode was inspired by “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Obviously, the Usher family is inspired by the morally bankrupt pharma family primarily responsible for the opioid crisis in the USA. So much so that I am surprised that the family hasn’t sued anyone yet. The Usher family is just about as repulsive as you can get, rotten through and through. Watching each of them bite it in creative ways inspired by Poe was the best part for me.
The cast was so large, and most characters were named after various Poe characters, if not all. The names chosen for each character all fit; the US Attorney as Dupin, Poe’s famous detective, was the one I appreciated the most. In terms of performances, Greenwood, as the patriarch, was a top-notch choice. His voice and recitation of verses were perfect, and even the lines from “Annabel Lee” weren’t as annoying as I normally find them.
While I did like this series, I can’t help but wonder how I would feel about it if I weren’t a Poe fan. I kept watching because I wanted to see how my favourite stories were used in a modern setting, and that might have been the only reason I watched the entire thing. I loved seeing the Easter Eggs; identifying everything was like an adventure. Even a keen-eyed fan wouldn’t have caught all the references within. But would someone unfamiliar with the source material find it as interesting as I did? I’m honestly not sure at this point. It was ultimately entertaining, and if you’re an “eat the rich” sort of person, you’d probably enjoy watching the family get its comeuppance.
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I’m a Data Analyst, from the land of Matthew McConaughey. I’m an avid movie-goer and love seeing films in theaters. My most recent favorite films are Good Time, Only Lovers Left Alive, TENET, and England is Mine. When I’m not at the movies, I’m either reading or watching obscene amount of true crime and historical documentaries.