Mike Flanagan’s latest creation for Netflix, The Fall of the House of Usher, opens with patriarch Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) burying his six children—Frederick (Henry Thomas), Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan), Leo (Rahul Kohli), Victorine (T’Nia Miller), Camille (Kate Siegel), and Perry (Sauriyan Sapkota)—who all died in shocking ways after the family was put on trial for crimes committed by their company, Fortuna Pharmaceuticals. Taunted by a mysterious bartender from his past, Verna (Carla Gugino), Roderick and his genius sister, Madeline (Mary McDonnell), try to figure out who is killing the Ushers. Plagued by the ghosts of his dead heirs, Roderick explains their demise to District Attorney Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) in a long, complicated confession.
I am a fan of Mike Flanagan’s work, especially the horror series he has created for Netflix. His rich depictions of family bonds, grief, faith, and mental health issues draw me in most, as his characters are often motivated by love, even in terrifying situations. In Usher, many of these issues infuse the plot, but there is a real lack of love. The complicated relationship between Roderick and Madeline arguably anchors the turns of the plot, but unlike, for example, the siblings in The Haunting Hill House, there is no warmth between them. The same goes for the extended web of Usher siblings, who seem to feel a limited range of emotions from disdain to hatred toward each other. For fans of HBO’s Succession, this show offers plenty of drama, but I felt disconnected from the characters, whose personalities I did not find charming and whose debauchery I did not find especially interesting.
Still, the series demonstrates excellence in its attention to detail, continuing Flangan’s style of adaptation that is more inspired by the works whose titles it borrows than faithful to their plots. Usher deploys an impressive range of references to Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, from the obvious recitation of his poetry or references to his most famous stories to more subtle nods via character names. The production also created many gruesome death scenes that are almost beautiful in their details. Perhaps the best example impales a character with a broken mirror while she floats in a stylized fall in an eerily green-lit room. The Ushers’ opulence gives them access to gorgeous sets that also elevate the horror of their deaths.
The acting from Flanagan’s troupe of favorites also stands out. The casting of Zach Guilford as young Roderick helps the character seem more sympathetic than he might deserve. As the family lawyer, Arthur Pym, Mark Hamill gives a brilliantly understated performance. Carla Gugino, however, is the real star of the series, excellent in her poetry readings and monologues and shapeshifting into a variety of personas as Verna wreaks havoc on the Ushers. Her steady, elegant hand carries the show.
Ultimately, the show critiques the Sackler family and their role in the opioid epidemic, through barely veiled references. I have said before that I think the Sacklers deserve this treatment, but in its finale, The Fall of the House of Husher hits this point too hard, distracting from broader themes about the corrupting influence of wealth and power and causing the final chapter to drag.
Although I did not enjoy this series as much as I have other series Mike Flanagan has created, it is still skillfully crafted, moving, moody, and sometimes very scary.
The Fall of the House of Usher was created by Mike Flanagan. It runs for 8 hour-long episodes and is rated TV-MA.
On Disney+, Goosebumps provides a sequel of sorts to the iconic 1990s book series beloved by Millennials. In the series, a group of teens (improbably named Zack Morris, Isa Briones, Miles McKenna, Ana Yi Puig, Will Price, Rhiannan Payne, and Francoise Yip) try to solve a mystery that their parents seem to be at the center of after they start to experience strange events ranging from haunted cameras, evil masks, and a violent ventriloquist’s dummy. And their new teacher (Justin Long) might be possessed by a ghost, too.
My husband and I both loved the R.L. Stine novels when we were kids and much like we were about Netflix’s Fear Street adaptations, we are very divided about this series. He enjoys it. I find it incredibly slow. Also, who asked for this dreary sequel full of cell phones and SUVs? How hard would it have been to set it in the 1990s and give us straight adaptations of the novels in an anthology similar to Are You Afraid of the Dark? Would that be too much to ask for? I genuinely could not care less about these teenagers and their parents’ drama, riffing on I Know What You Did Last Summer, but I will finish this series because I know how to share the remote.
Goosebumps was created by Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. It runs for 10 episodes (5 were released as of this writing) and is rated TV-PG.
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