'The Fall Of The House Of Usher' Review: Netflix's New Horror Series

‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’ Review: Netflix’s New Horror Series

For most people, choices made incur consequences. One of the most intriguing components of life is the realization that we all have a tab, and at one point or another, a bill will come due. The 1% who hold the majority of the wealth and influence globally typically don’t abide by these same rules. The upper echelons of society move through life seemingly without repercussions by leaching off the powerless. Mike Flanagan’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which earns its title from an 1839 Edgar Allen Poe story, showcases the demise of a family who, after being afforded every opportunity, eventually pays the price for their rampant monstrosity.

As the series opens, fans are introduced to Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), the graying CEO of Fortunado Industries — a massive pharmaceutical conglomerate with a signature drug that’s equivalent to the highly addictive opioid OxyContin. Though he has everything at his fingertips, Roderick is deeply distressed. All six of his children have died recently, leaving him, his twin sister Madeline (Mary McDonnell), his granddaughter, Lenore (Kyliegh Curran), his new bride Juno (Ruth Codd) and the family consigliere Arthur Pym, aka The Pym Greaper (an unrecognizable Mark Hamill) as the remaining members of the Usher empire.

Spooked by the appearance of a mystery woman (Carla Gugino) during the final funeral for his children, Roderick summons Assistant Attorney General C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) to his childhood home to offer a confession for his varied crimes. Dupin has spent decades of his career going after the Ushers, but he’s never been able to make any charges stick successfully. Eager to hear what Roderick has to say, the men sit down for a drink as Roderick begins to unfurl the story of his life — starting with his childhood and leading to the shocking deaths of his offspring. Roderick’s son, Frederick (Henry Thomas), and his daughter, Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan), are the eldest siblings, born from the CEO’s marriage to his first wife, Annabel Lee (Katie Parker). Then there are the Usher bastards: PR mastermind Camille (Kate Siegel), video game tycoon Napoleon (Rahul Kohli), ambitious scientist Victorine (T’Nia Miller) and the youngest, the party-loving Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota). The younger four were born out of Roderick’s sexual frivolity after taking over Fortunato.

Broken up into eight chapters, the six middle episodes of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” each named for a terrifying Poe tale, illustrate the death of one of the Usher children. Fans of creator Mike Flanagan know that his entire body of work sits within the horror genre, but this show is more sinister than chilling. As the episodes press forward, an aura of foreboding is infused throughout the scenes. Since the redeemable characters within the series are almost non-existent, watching the demise of the Ushers is nothing to be horrified about, but it is grisly nonetheless.

Stripping away some of the density of Poe’s language, the dialogue between Greenwood and Lumbly is engrossing to watch. Roderick eloquently unpacks his rise to the top of Fortunato, and then reveals how each of his children died in colorful detail. He recounts his obsession with pushing a highly addictive drug and fraudulently marketing it, nearly echoing the real-life rise of the Sackler family, who ran Perdue Pharma and were major players in the opioid epidemic. For his part, Dupin — whose history with the Ushers goes well beyond the courtroom — tries to unpack the mystery at the center of Roderick’s story: why the Usher bloodline seems to be rapidly dying out.

While all of the episodes are solid, a few — namely the second episode, “The Masque of the Red Death,” which depicts the final fete of Prospero Usher, and Episode 6, “Goldbug,” which centers the implosion of Tamerlane and her Goop-like company, are gems. Meanwhile, Poe’s rhymes are infused with the beauty of Flanagan’s signature monologues. One particular speech Roderick delivers in Episode 3 about marketing lemons is absolutely engrossing television. Moreover, flashbacks into the past, specifically New Year’s Eve 1979, begin to uncover the varied pieces that led to the rise of the Ushers, and what Madeline and Roderick did to solidify the family name in the history books.

Though enjoyable, the middle episodes of “The Fall of the House of Usher” do drag a bit. The narrative shifts away from the motivations and desires of the Usher children, focusing more on Roderick and Madeline as perpetrators of the opioid epidemic. This element of the series was often too on the nose, and much less compelling than the random displays of immorality and wickedness that make the Ushers rotten to the core. Since there are more than a couple of fictional representations of the Saclker family in media, the show would’ve been even stronger had it not leaned so heavily into those story fragments, and remained aligned instead with the “Succession” aspects of the series. Also, the framework of the Usher legacy is most poignant when Flanagan shines a light on the twins’ ambitions, even as teens and young adults, as well as their unbridled loyalty to one another.

A stunning use of Poe’s work as the Cliffs Notes to his own majestic, intricate brand of storytelling, Flanagan’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” showcases what the 1% is willing to sacrifice to remain in high places. However, it’s also a reminder that while the powerful may delay settling a tab, debts must often be paid in blood when collection time comes — whether in one generation or the next.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” premieres on Netflix Oct. 12.