For five years Mike Flanagan has been gifting Netflix with what are, in my opinion, horror television masterpieces. From The Haunting of Hill House and Bly Manor to Midnight Mass and The Midnight Club, Flanagan has rightfully earned himself the title of Horror Master. He has turned out consistently scary, cerebral, dark, and heartwrenching shows that are incredibly good and also have immense rewatchability.
All that being said, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that The Fall of the House of Usher premiered on the five-year anniversary of The Haunting of Hill House. Hill House marked his television beginning with Netflix and Usher marks his end. And what an end it’s shaping up to be.
Right from the start it’s clear this is going to be an absolute feast for Edgar Allan Poe fans. As someone who grew up reading and rereading a massive book of Poe’s collected works, I knew right away I was going to be in good hands with this adaptation. The first few minutes of the episode, which is perfectly titled ‘A Midnight Dreary’, give us ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ needle drop accompanied by flashes of a brick wall and an ominous raven. It doesn’t take long for us to meet the reason we’re even here: the Usher family. The Ushers are wealthy and corrupt and consist of patriarch Roderick, his sister Madeline, Roderick’s six children (Frederick, Tamerlane, Victorine, Napoleon “Leo”, Camille, and Prospero “Perry”), a supporting ensemble of significant others, and one granddaughter, Lenore. And let me just say even with one episode down out of eight these actors are already spectacular to watch. The children’s introduction scenes, though short, already give us so much insight into the type of people they are.
We’re not even ten minutes into the episode when Flanagan pulls off a bold storytelling choice: every single one of Roderick’s children has died over the course of two weeks. And, as we see at Victorine, Tamerlane, and Frederick’s combined funeral through Roderick’s hallucinations, they’ve all died very bloody and gruesome deaths. Flanagan gives us a lot to digest in this episode. Not only do we get Roderick and Madeline’s traumatic childhood backstory but we also get some beginning insight into why the two of them turned out the way they did. This only scratches the surface, of course. Flanagan knows how to keep viewers coming back for more and that’s a trend he continues with Usher.
Something I admire about Mike Flanagan is his commitment to his actors. Sure, he’s become known for using a lot of his actors multiple times, but the difference between him and other directors who do this is that he trusts his actors. They never play the same character twice. And despite this only being the first episode it’s already so apparent that if his other shows are designed to get you attached to his characters, this one is designed to make you hate them.
There’s not much to say on the story yet as it’s just beginning to unfold, but I like the trajectory it’s taking. It’s clear Flanagan has been inspired by the Sackler family and the opioid epidemic. The Ushers are on trial for deaths and other crimes related to the painkiller Ligodone that the family’s wealth and foundation are built on. He’s established some key horror scenes that I’m looking forward to watching come into play later. As a committed “Flanaverse” fan, I know nothing is ever a coincidence and nothing he shows onscreen is without intent. That’s something I deeply admire about him as a filmmaker.
Am I a bit biased because I love his work? Sure, there’s no denying that. But it’s already so evident that he has a lot of respect for Poe and his storytelling. Even after one episode of The Fall of the House of Usher, I can already tell Flanagan is setting us up for something deeply unsettling and profound. And I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
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