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The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) | Review

By Jack Carlile

Rating: 3/5

Image: Connecticut State Library on flickr. License: CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Mike Flanagan’s latest literary adaptation, The Fall of the House of Usher, arrived on Netflix this October after much anticipation.

The show, an adaptation of multiple Edgar Allan Poe stories set in the modern world, centres around the lives of the Usher family. In flashbacks, we follow Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) — the patriarch of his family who has risen to multi-billion-dollar status thanks to his supposedly miraculous opioid — and his six children, all of whom have been recently buried. We, as the audience, are left to sit in Roderick’s rotting, dilapidated childhood home as he relates how this truly came about.

While the series takes its name and general premise from one particular Poe story, it takes themes, character traits, and iconography from a different story per episode to focus on the Usher children separately. In this sense, it is an entertaining and comprehensive homage to the writer. On paper, Flanagan’s handling of these stories might seem discordant as it presents a clash between his bittersweet storytelling and Poe’s consistent melancholy darkness. However, a compromise is found between these two styles, and while it can certainly be entertaining, it is not subtle in the slightest. Where Poe said so much with few words, those ideas have been translated into sprawling monologues and on-the-nose rants that define (or rather, explain) the speaker’s character. Viewers who look for people speaking like people should look elsewhere. From certain angles, this can be excused; the actors are generally good enough to sell their obviously unrealistic dialogue, but the show also occasionally leans into its unreality through recitations of Poe’s poetry and its over-the-top horror and violence.

The horror element of the show, however, will be gratifying to fans of Flanagan’s previous work despite the slight deviation in the source material.

Learning in the first episode that at least six deaths occur presents us with the knowledge that we look forward to at least six death sequences —all of which are staged and executed effectively with consistently interesting lighting shifts and performances. The show avoids the risk of appearing repetitive in this, keeping the viewer guessing and being slowly drawn in throughout the episode until all of the cards are laid out.

With any heavily episodic series, some episodes are going to be more enjoyable than others. That rule applies here. While each central character is unlikable in their own ways, some are much more enjoyable to watch than others, with actors such as Kate Siegel and Henry Thomas carrying their respective episodes with ease. For this reason, the show can feel bogged down at times with its less interesting characters and their personal stories, but otherwise remains engaging in its flashbacks to Roderick and his sister Madeline at the end of the seventies, acting as an origin story of sorts. The separation of these plot threads can, at times, make the show feel somewhat disjointed in terms of which is more interesting at certain times, but the show comes to a close nicely with a satisfying ending, wrapping everything up.

While The Fall of the House of Usher doesn’t make for the ideal Edgar Allan Poe adaptation and could understandably be swept under the rug by those who don’t appreciate its unrealistic approach, it is an entertaining story in its own right with each episode promising something different — despite appearing formulaic on the surface.


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