Mike Flanagan is among the select few who have had the privilege of watching all his horror films. His foray into amateur horror, commencing with “Oculus” and “Absentia,” has now culminated in what could be considered the zenith of his career. While the director boasts several successful projects, he has also, regrettably, ventured into less engaging endeavors over the years. Time has passed, and during this process, Mike Flanagan has notably honed his craft. Following the captivating yet slow-burning series such as “Bly Manor,” “Hill House,” and “Midnight Mass,” Flanagan, with an expanded array of resources at his disposal, has now delivered his magnum opus to date in the form of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” This production stands not only as a standout of 2023 but as an exceptional work, excelling in every aspect, from its technical execution to its script.
Allow me to briefly touch upon its premise. The children of the Usher family, renowned for their wealth but even more so for the illicit dealings that have contributed to their affluence, mysteriously begin to succumb to an inexplicable fate, one by one. After the demise of each child, Roderick Usher, a long-time friend and a formidable adversary of Auguste Dupin, takes the extraordinary step of summoning Dupin and confiding in him the clandestine truths about the family. The transformation of the Usher dynasty into a formidable empire, the enigma shrouding the deaths of the children, and a long-buried, almost inconceivable secret from years past are all part of this intricate tapestry.
The key to Mike Flanagan’s ascendant success in recent years lies within “The Haunting” series. Following the sudden resurgence of his career with “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix, Flanagan has consistently unveiled a fresh project nearly every year. While “Bly Manor” sadly stands as the most lackluster project in this trajectory, “Midnight Mass” found favor among those who share my personal interests. Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that this entire trajectory, initiated by “The Haunting,” characterizes the director’s oeuvre as predominantly slow-burn projects. In particular, “Midnight Mass” proved taxing on its audience until the culmination of its final two episodes.
Comparatively, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is unequivocally Mike Flanagan’s finest work to date, surpassing his prior efforts in various respects. Unlike the languid narratives of his past creations, notorious for their difficulties in reaching a satisfactory conclusion, this series progresses like an exhilarating marathon. From the very first moment to its last, it unfolds as a tempest of suspense. Flanagan skillfully interlaces a multitude of enigmas throughout the fabric of his narrative. For discerning viewers, there are numerous threads to follow, with knots that are gradually untangled as the episodes unfold. The enigma of questions and answers persists until the final seconds of the series. In the current landscape, many shows falter and lose their viewers’ interest due to their inability to provide adequate answers to the questions posed. Mike Flanagan, on the other hand, adeptly manipulates the ratio of questions and answers in his intricate narrative equation.
The series inherently excels in keeping its audience engrossed through its screenplay alone. We delve into a meticulously woven, fast-paced, multi-faceted narrative. However, what truly enhances this narrative and adorns it with intricate details is the remarkable technical craftsmanship at play. “The Fall of the House of Usher” arguably stands as Mike Flanagan’s most high-budget undertaking to date. The technical execution within the series is of an exceptionally high caliber. Its multifaceted nature, in terms of characters and plot, lends a rich tapestry to the art design. Flanagan seizes this opportunity to demonstrate a superlative level of craftsmanship. However, a distinction must be made here. While the director’s past works have had their share of memorable scenes, “The Fall of the House of Usher” boasts a plethora of striking moments in almost every episode. From Roderick Usher’s hallucinatory fall from the building to Tamarlane Usher’s ethereal levitation, the acid party, the collapsing of the building onto Frederick, and many more, the series abounds with moments that will linger in one’s memory for an extended duration. Empowered by the budget, the director elevates the level of technical craftsmanship, and with the support of his collaborator, Michael Fimognari, he delivers one of Netflix’s most outstanding technical achievements.
When complemented by high-caliber acting, the fusion of exquisite storytelling and top-notch technical craftsmanship leaves no room for the project to falter. Mike Flanagan has been collaborating with the same individuals for years—his wife, Kate Siegel, Carla Gugino, Katie Parker, and Bruce Greenwood. Yet, “The Fall of the House of Usher” boasts the most extensive ensemble cast in his career. Such multi-character projects are inherently risky, for they pose challenges in both direction and balance. However, Flanagan astutely leverages this risk to his advantage in every facet of the series, including the cast. The ensemble, portraying the Usher family and those in their service, delivers a phenomenal collective performance. Not a single name remains in the shadows. Yet, one name undoubtedly shines the brightest among the characters: Carla Gugino. Portraying an ancient deity, Gugino delivers the peak performance of her career, presenting distinct characters in each episode. Having viewed 16 of her projects to date, I can confidently state that Carla Gugino seizes the opportunities offered by the script and, at least in my view, delivers her finest acting performance to date. I do not know how much she values awards, but her performance should not go unnoticed in significant ceremonies such as the Emmy Awards.
In summary, “The Fall of the House of Usher” stands as Mike Flanagan’s most accomplished project to date, excelling in every aspect. The director has taken Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale of the Usher mansion and forged it into a modern masterpiece. A series that embodies all the parameters of an exceptional production, it stands as one of the finest technical achievements I have witnessed on Netflix. Mike Flanagan, capitalizing on the increase in resources and the wealth of his cast, has elevated himself to the pinnacle of his career. However, considering Flanagan’s consistent drive for self-improvement as a director, I can only hope that “The Fall of the House of Usher” will be just one of many summits in his illustrious career.
Cast & Crew
creator: Mike Flanagan
starring: Carla Gugino, Kate Siegel, Bruce Greenwood, Mary McDonnell, Henry Thomas, Rahul Kohli, Samantha Sloyan, T’Nia Miller, Zach Gilford, Willa Fitzgerald, Michael Trucco, Katie Parker, Crystal Balint, Ruth Codd, Kyliegh Curran,Carl Lumbly, Mark Hamill
USA | 2023 | 8 EPISODES |