Wednesday, May 1, 2024


Film: The Fall of the House of Usher (2023)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I’ve been going through Mike Flanagan’s multiple NetFlix miniseries. With The Fall of the House of Usher, I have now seen four out of the five, and mentally, I think I need a little break from Flanagan before I watch the one I haven’t seen. The reason is simple: Usher, despite being shorter than both The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, takes a much bigger toll on the viewer. This is angrier than Flanagan’s other series, and perhaps that’s a function of the way the story went.

Unlike Hill House and Bly Manor, The Fall of the House of Usher is not focused specifically on a building. In this case, “house” is referring to the family or lineage of a family called Usher. The story is vaguely based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name (no surprise), but with a substantial amount of license taken. In Poe’s story, the Usher family is down to a couple of members who are preparing for their demise. In this version of the story, the Ushers are fabulously wealthy, connected to a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company, and also preparing for their ultimate demise.

Since the story plays out over eight episodes, there’s a great deal to unpack. There are also substantially more important characters in this show than in the other two famous story-based Flanagan miniseries. At the center of the story is Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood, and Zach Gilford in flashbacks) and his younger sister Madeline (Mary McDonnell in the present and Willa Fitzgerald in the past). The story is told essentially in flashback, with Roderick relating the tale to Auguste Dupine (Carl Lumbly), a prosecutor who has been trying to get Roderick for years.

A substantial amount of the story is about the destruction of the Usher family, evidently at the hands of a mysterious, supernatural woman named Verna (Carla Gugino). Roderick Usher, we learn, accepted the paternity of all of his children; he has two by his first wife and four more from relationship after her departure. A substantial amount of the story, at least the parts that aren’t getting to the identity of the supernatural Verna and exactly how the Ushers got to where they are, concerns the deaths of all six of Roderick’s children in reverse order of age, youngest dying first. The children, like all of the characters in the series, have names that come from Poe’s stories and fates that connect them with Poe’s tales, sometimes the same ones their names are connected with. The more you know of Poe, the more there are hidden surprises like this to find. It’s also the only way possible we’re going to get characters named things like Prospero, Napoleon, and Tamerlane. Even Roderick’s first wife is named Annabel Lee (Katie Parker) and the family lawyer is named Arthur Gordon Pym (Mark Hamill).

In essence, the middle six episodes in large part concern the deaths of one of his children, with the framing episodes concerning the overall story. The episodes themselves have names of Poe’s tales as well. A great deal of effort has gone in to making sure that as many Poe tales as can be referenced are referenced. For instance, one of the family’s facilities is named RUE, for Roderick Usher Experimental; because of all of the animal testing that takes place there, it is nicknamed “RUE Morgue.” The parent company is called Fortunato. Even some obscure tales are name checked. The assistant of one of the Ushers is named Toby. He is frequently summoned or admonished by the phrase, “Toby, damnit!” For those in the know, Toby Dammit is one of the characters in rare example of Poe’s whimsy, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head.” Even Verna is an anagram of “raven.”

What sets this apart from the other Flanagan miniseries on NetFlix is that The Fall of the House of Usher is crueler than the other stories in a lot of ways. It may be that this is because we are dealing with people who are generally far worse than the characters in the other stories. Oh, we might have a terrible person or two in those takes, but virtually all of them are twisted and sick in this one. Drug addiction, blackmail, murder, cruelty, various sexual perversions, and more are the stock-in-trade of the Usher family. This is on top of the fact that part of the framing story is the family being in court for helping to cause the opioid crisis. These are not good people, and the fates that they suffer are terrible, painful, and vicious.

But it is still good. I think Flanagan reached the peak with The Haunting of Hill House and everything since has been trying to get back there. The Fall of the House of Usher isn’t at that peak, but it’s good and worth seeing. Just prepare yourself for some very ugly moments.

Why to watch The Fall of the House of Usher: Mike Flanagan does good work.
Why not to watch: It’s more mean-spirited than Flanagan’s other work.


  1. Of Flanagan's work, this is my favorite. It was so rich in story and it didn't have any episodes that killed the momentum. I still haven't seen The Midnight Club, that's the one that interested me the least. Otherwise I've seen all his Netflix series.

    1. The Midnight Club is the one that I'm missing, too.

      There's a lot to like with this one, but for me, Flanagan hasn't topped The Haunting of Hill House. That's the one that I keep coming back to.

  2. I would like to check this out as I'm still cleaning things out in my old laptop and about to get a new one hopefully in a few days. That way, I will officially return to the Netflix.

    1. This one feels quick, like you can get through it very rapdily. There's not a great deal of filler.