Massim Mikefranagan’s the Fall of the House of Usher, the author/director’s latest and last Netflix miniseries (the creator jumped to Amazon at the end of last year), is different from the others. In previous adaptation works, such as The Haunting of Hill House or his original series Midnight Mass, Flanagan uses a deeply human lens for horror, in which ghosts and the supernatural are mirrors of the fragility of his characters. Not so with the fall of the House of Usher. Here you are a reckoning. Roderick Usher’s sons are dead. You deserve it.
As in The Midnight Club and The Haunting of Bly Manor, The Fall of the House of Usher uses the story that gave it its name (in this case by Edgar Allan Poe) as a frame narrative to build the season around, with individual episodes turning to other Poe stories for inspiration. In Flanagan’s version, Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), head of the pharmaceutical company Fortunato, is sitting in a dilapidated mansion that reflects his happiness. His company is under investigation for the marketing of a highly addictive opioid, his children are dead and he has no one to talk to except the investigator C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly).
This is what he does: he tells the story of his rise as an ambitious postal worker in Fortunato (played by Zach Gilford) and his fall, telling about the series of misfortunes that led to the fact that his children died one after another in a series of terrible events. and maybe supernatural events.
Flanagan’s reinvention of Poe’s Gothic corpus as a horror-like follow-up doesn’t give up on his humane and heartfelt approach to terror, but because it’s about a family of terrible people getting theirs, the fall of the House of Usher feels lighter, faster, and more entertaining than Flanagan’s previous shows. It’s about a family that broke the world because they couldn’t fix themselves. Usher’s haunting is not marked by sadness, addiction or faith. You are karma. Terror as a moral fable.
This makes the case of the House of Usher a little easier in the way that Flanagan’s work is usually avoided, but his decision to turn the ushers into surrogate families of the Sacklers goes a long way to improving this. The show takes great advantage of portraying the ushers as monstrous, but it’s understandable. Most Usher children are born out of wedlock and feel compelled to act overzealously or assert their influence in a constant struggle for attention or belonging. Roderick’s bond with his twin sister Madeline (Mary McDonnell in the present, Willa Fitzgerald in the past) is toxic symbiotic, as the two reinforce each other’s worst traits in order to succeed. And reviewing a government investigation where one of them could be a mole brings to light their long-standing insecurities and fears. The Usher clan is full of simple but effective archetypes.
Almost every character in the case of the House of Usher is completely understandable as a tragic character. In a way, this is emblematic of Flanagan’s work; one can characterize his television shows first as family dramas, and then as horror stories. But in the end it does not matter how much we understand the ushers. The karmic debts accumulated by his opiate empire are too big to be paid with anything other than blood. Then fuck her.
Mike Flanagan’s Netflix work was a wonderful exercise in horror as an intimate, romantic genre. His shows are explorations of the ways in which intimacy and emotional catharsis require perhaps the most terrifying yet essential of all: vulnerability. The fall of the House of Usher is a story about people who do not find this catharsis and as a result end up in a more traditional – and therefore moral – horror story. The ushers did terrible things and something worse came to them as punishment. Have a nice trip.