Fall of the House of Sackler…um…Usher. My no spoiler review.
What: Fall of the House of Usher
Type: Limited Series (8 Eps) Horror
Worth Watching: YES – particularly if you are a Poe fan.
My Score: 4 perfect Ravens and 1 missing its wings (4.5 out of 5)
Mike Flanagan can tell one hell of a story. Of course we knew that from the elegant brilliance of The Haunting of Hill House. Through ups and downs, he’s gotten to be a better writer and grown (or recovered) as a director. He’s learned from the only complaint about the thoughtful Midnight Mass (the glacial slow burn start), and the volume of complaints about the terribly boring Midnight Club (dreary backdrops and moody teens are not enough to carry a series).
Fall of the House of Usher starts with a bang and never really stops – it is interesting, visceral, visually stunning and gnarly, and while it doesn’t really give us a faithful Fall of the House of Usher (other than to use it as a frame) – it brings up many of Poe’s works to give something more than an adaptation – it gives us a modern example of what Edgar Allen Poe wanted us to know (about lost loves, guilty acts, devilish secrets and the plight of the rich and the poor) and how he wanted us to feel.
The writing and directing thrives with a wealth of good decisions including:
* The homage to Poe throughout, using his poems, stories, characters.
* The modernization/antiquity balance. Characters start their speeches with the same poetic etherealism Poe used, but about 3 sentences in revert to modern speak and common language. They have their Poe names (Prospero, Napoleon, Victorine) but quickly revert to names we can deal with (Perry, Leo, Vic). Best is the siblings changing of Frederick to Frauderick which fits his duplicity perfectly.
* Giving each of the kids their own Poe story/episode to explore their death, while stringing Roderick (the stand-in for Poe) and Lenore through each episode.
* Sticking with the Flanaverse Cast – Henry Thomas, Kate Siegal, etc. Carla Gugino as “Verna” (you can work that anagram out for yourself) is brilliant, alluring, hypnotic and creepy.
*The Soundtrack – perfect.
* The use of intelligent and thought provoking monologues. Best in the group is Roderick’s “When life give you lemons” speech (note: Make lemonade is not the Usher answer), and Camille’s “We don’t really make anything” discussion of how the wealthy don’t do any of the actual “work” of their riches.
The only bad choice was turning the Ushers into the Sackler family. When using Fall of the House of Usher as a frame, the story drives forward about the Ushers getting obscenely wealthy off a drug that they claim is non-addictive but is, of course, ruining countless lives. Between the many fictional movies and documentaries about the Sacklers, it just seems like a retread.
Do we love the idea of the Sacklers paying for their inhumanity in supernatural ways? Yes. Does the backstory of young Roderick and Madeline doing dirty pharma deeds make the series better? No. By midway, every time a flashback would take us to the younger days, I was instantly bored. And why is Annabel Lee so homely and dull?
My favorite Eps were Masque of the Red Death and GoldBug.
It’s got some jump scares, some deep thoughts, eye popping visuals, and it is worth the time you give it. Come for the comeuppance, stay for the Raven.