The Fall of the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher
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Poe’s” The Fall of the House of Usher is reimagined as an update to “Succession”, turning Poe’s most famous tales into a sprawling story of the decline of a wealthy American family. It’s an amalgamation between Succession, and The Tell Tale Heart; it is about revenge, power, treachery, and flesh cuts. At times it can feel like there are too many references packed in this story while at others it seems narrative thinness but Mike Flanagan’s skillfulness as well as recurring cast members assembling keeps this pendulum swinging through eight gruesome hours of horror TV that should appeal to any fans of “The Haunting of Hill House” or “Midnight Mass.” In a month filled with surprisingly lackluster new streaming shows and films for horror fans, it’s a highlight.

On one stormy night, Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) invites an investigator named C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) over to his house. He asks if he can tell him everything about his family’s criminal past. One could expect the eyebrow to rise among those who know something about Edgar Allan Poe and have already heard about Dupin from other stories than this project’s title, however Netflix’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Flanagan only utilizes Poe’s 1839 eponymous tale as its central plot line where all others are attached around its arms such as The Masque of Red Death, Murder in Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, Pit and Pendulum – Raven among many others. All these horrible scenes are inserted within the context which Usher presents to Dupin hence providing each chapter with an episodic structure: every part unfolds the whole saga interweaving different sources written by E.A.Poe.

How did all these branches on the Usher tree get butchered or slashed by bloody horrors? What gave Usher this bloody knowledge? “I know because they told me,” says Usher. Dupin asks, “Before they died?” “No, not before,” he replies in one of the show’s many glimpses of Flanagan’s viciously dark sense of humor. (Poe had one too.) The reason why he is ready to admit everything is because it feels as if the spirits are finally coming for him. He has been seeing monstrous ghosts including Verna (Carla Gugino) who comes up again and again somehow tying together most of these tall tales like a vengeful force of karma or payback due from this soulless exploiter.

Usher is now portrayed as the CEO of a massive pharmaceutical corporation with its headquarters shared between himself and his twin sister Madeline (Mary McDonnell). Each episode includes flashbacks to a young Roderick (Zach Gilford), Madeline (Willa Fitzgerald), and Annabel Lee (Katie Parker), Roderick’s first wife. This story element may be important to explain how the Ushers became rich but it slows down the narrative a little bit. More importantly than their upbringing is that Roderick and Madeline are cruel, selfish beings. It’s more interesting that we get to see what happened to all those children , broken by some Poe monster into pieces who remain for life with their dad Usher!

By episode names, some English majors can predict the course of certain stories. For example, when the young and fashionable Prospero Usher (Sauriyan Sapkota) throws an exclusive sex-and-drugs party at one of his father’s old factories in an abbey, people who have read The Masque of Red Death will understand that it’s going to be a gory scene. However, Flanagan is clever enough to adjust Poe narratives just a little bit for modern readers. He has presented The Tell-Tale Heart in his own modern version and reimagined “The Gold-Bug” as a new line of products from the Usher brand. Nevertheless, they all involve guilt, obsession, revenge and supernatural justice. Incidentally, Roderick Usher’s children deserve all they are getting since not only are they born out of terrible circumstances but also because their choices to remain within wealth and privilege have been more than costly.

But this is only the beginning as “The Fall of House of Usher” also goes back further to explain what happens Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel), Leo Usher (Rahul Kohli), Victorine LeFourcade (T’Nia Miller), Tamerlane Usher (Samantha Sloyan) and Frederick Usher did wrong to come into this world.The whole thing is followed by Arthur Pym (Mark Hamill) working for the Ushers as a sort of Mr.Fixer which was totally different from Poe’s ‘only novel’, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

This narrative tends to drag on at certain points throughout one season of “The Fall Of House Of Usher”. Most flashbacks featuring a young Dupin or an even younger usher are weak in comparison with some truly mean-spirited delights involving Rodrick’s offspring.It feels like filler to get episodes up to a full hour when Flanagan and co could have gone even further in episodising a single Poe per chapter. However, the series is designed to be easily consumed on an episode-by-episode basis, partly because Flanagan’s direction is consistently sharp – great use of music, and tight editing (some scenes are underlit though, but that’s just the Netflix look now and I’m done fighting it).

While the writing is fun and the source material about as good as it gets, it helps “The Fall of the House of Usher” greatly that Flanagan reunited so many of his familiar faces. Good performances all around; some are outstanding like Greenwood and McDonnell. The first one does his best using his natural ability to dominate any space he is in while taking on juicy roles fully; this male performer never lets up.Lumbly’s decision not to do anything at all winks away realness while actors such as Thomas or Hamill can overact for effect. It is brought together by the creative power of someone like Mike Flanagan working with Edgar Allan Poe which amounts to a fantastic ensemble. Some elements of such potential seem too uncontrolled and vague whereas Poe rarely allowed his characters this freedom: excusable.

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