There are few filmmakers whose work I get more excited for than Mike Flanagan. The man is like heroin in my veins. His eye for horror is unmatched and has managed to be one of the few gems in a world of disappointments. Midnight Mass is still one of my favorite series ever and am always blown away at how much his work impacts me. But the mystery behind The Fall of the House of Usher left me at a fever pitch. I was able to talk to both Rahul Kohli and Katie Parker back in January, and they were unable to even say what the series was even about. But their excitement sent the message this was something special. And oh boy is it ever.
I love that this is essentially Mike Flanagan's version of Succession. There's more humor present than any of his past work and could definitely be considered a dark comedy. However, there's still that trademark Flanagan sense of dread and absolutely breathtaking cinematography. And I like that Flanagan was able to get away from the Haunted House motif that has followed his career. Usher showed that he can do something different while still bringing what you would expect from a Flanagan joint. And I'm not familiar with much of Poe's work outside of what's been shown on The Simpsons, so I'd be curious to see what the original House of Usher story entails.
I was somewhat shocked at how violent the series is. I went into this knowing very little, so as soon as the first episode establishes that all of Roderick's children have died tragically, I knew I was in for a violent journey. But I'm not sure I was expecting it to go as hard as it did. Prospero and countless orgy-goers being melted into this weird Society-like blob, Camille getting mauled by an ape, or Victorine who had the most violent and least expected death of them all. They're all absolutely brutal. It doesn't hurt that there's not a single weak performance in the cast.
One of the biggest surprises came from Willa Fitzgerald, who plays the young Madeline Usher. There were times where I thought I was hearing Mary McDonnell, her performance is so in line with her older muse. In fact, I'd say Madeline is the most intriguing character in the whole series, made even more interesting with the ending. Carla Gugino is absolutely phenomenal as Verna and gets to wear so many different faces here. She manages to be absolutely terrifying while still being empathetic when needed. It was so satisfying to see her finally get a chance to shine. Usher is a showcase for strong female performances.
I will say that the series does lose a little steam at different points. Looking at the split between Flanagan and Fimognari, I found myself liking Flanagan's episodes more. There's an energy there that doesn't feel ever-present in the Fimognari helmed eps. Though, oddly enough, my least favorite episode actually came from Flanagan, Goldbug. So clearly the difference isn't THAT big of a deal. And I also have to bring up the fact that Frank Langella was let go for inappropriate onset behavior. I'm further confused by this because I was under the impression it happened during a sex scene with Mary McDonnell, which clearly isn't the case as they play brother and sister here. I'm just further confused and wanted to bring it up here on the off chance that someone reading this has an answer.
Overall, I really loved The Fall of the House of Usher. It's dark but has a twisted sense of humor that really aligns with my own. I enjoyed watching these people get what was coming to them and the brutal ways in which they departed this earth. I'll watch anything that Flanagan does and this just further cements that.