Imagine you’re Mike Flanagan. You like Stephen King, good movies, and good TV. You’re a fan of charismatic characters, twisty plots, and dialogue which sounds like something no human being would ever say. One day you’re sitting at your desk thinking about your next project, and then it hits you: what would happen if you put Succession and Knives Out in a Flana-blender, and then smeared that mixture over the hardback collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest works? The answer, evidently, is The Fall of the House of Usher.
As Flanagan’s final Netflix collaboration (for now, at least), The Fall of the House of Usher tells you in the credits that it’s based on the work of American master of the Gothic, Edgar Allan Poe. That’s not really true. The story in this show, new on Netflix in October, uses the broadest of strokes from Poe’s hallucinogenic and paranoid horror story (and some others) to become almost entirely its own beast. If you’re looking for a close adaptation, this truly isn’t it.
Instead, Flanagan crafts a tale focusing on Roderick Usher as the head of a quite literally toxic pharmaceutical mega-corporation. He’s supported by his devilish and brutal sister Madeline, who researches tech and AI. Both share the same single goal: to protect their wealth, power, and family.
That family is composed mostly of Roderick’s children, each an awful person in their own right who’s simultaneously eager to please their father and secure his approval while admonishing and undermining one another through shared familial distrust and jealousy. That distrust reaches boiling point upon the realization that there’s an informant in their ranks, leaking the family’s misdeeds to the US government.
It’s a story of all-consuming greed and despondency and, eventually, death follows with a supernatural flare. So, classic Flana-territory then, and really The Fall of the House of Usher feels like some sort of celebratory culmination of the filmmaker’s work. It’s grand and stylish and has all his hallmark calling cards: the corpse of a dead woman wandering around, an epic narrative that spans decades, clever and tricky connections that tie the story together, and sweeping monologues reflecting on life and death and just how awful everyone and everything is.
If you love Flanagan’s prior work, The Fall of the House of Usher will almost certainly be a proper October treat and one of your best TV series of the year. The even better news is that, if you don’t like his previous work, you might still like this. It’s extremely watchable, deliciously ghastly and gruesome, and his worst instincts (overwritten and smug dialogue, and a convoluted plot that encircles itself without ever getting to the point) are mostly absent. If you find the distinct Flanagan-ness of, say, The Haunting of Bly Manor to be overbearing, The Fall of the House of Usher will better suit your tastes.
The only noticeable downside to Flanagan reining in his Flana-habits is a possible superficiality: something that has never really reared its head on a previous Flana-show. While each of his other series really dug into its characters (that is the point of his distinct brand of dialogue, after all), there is a sense of two-dimensionality here.
Perhaps it’s the vastness of the cast – there is only so much screen time to share – or because the siblings can seem like caricatures. There’s the ‘cold and calculating PR expert’, the ‘lethargic videogamer with a reliance on drugs’, and the ‘young TikTok-er who wants social media gratification’. They are, at times, characters created to serve a purpose, and at worst they can feel inorganic.
Thankfully, these Flana-characters are at least brought to life by a remarkably assembled Flana-cast, with regulars Bruce Greenwood, Carla Gugino, Zach Gilford, Samantha Sloyan, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Kate Siegel, and Henry Thomas all in major roles. It’s a downright Flana-fest, and while it does prove enjoyable to watch each demonstrate their range in contrast to their previous work with Flanagan, fresh faces would be just as appreciated too, as proven by Mark Hamill.
The Fall of the House of Usher marks Hamill’s first time working with Flanagan, and it shows. He brings brightness and vigor to his character, the grizzled Arthur Pym, and every second he’s on the screen is a delight. It’s almost criminal that he mostly goes under-utilized: confined to sitting in corners and brooding, rarely allowed to utter more than five words uninterrupted, especially in the first half of the mini-series. But he dazzles nonetheless, outshining anyone in his vicinity.
The Fall of the House of Usher is, then, peak-Flanagan. There was a threat that it could be the point where his Flanaverse begins to collapse under its own weight. But it isn’t. It’s fun and fast, and filled with Gothic-inspired charm. No, it doesn’t have the depth of some of his previous work (it doesn’t really hold a candle to Midnight Mass), but maybe this is the equivalent of Flana-fast food. For the most part, it does the trick and can be immensely enjoyable in the moment. Just don’t necessarily count on it to keep you full for too long.
For more from Flanagan and Netflix, see our guide to the best Netflix series, and keep up to date with development on Wednesday season 2 for additional Gothic delight. Or, see our picks for the best horror series, and see the latest update on Flanagan’s Dark Tower TV series.
Netflix lands another Flanagan hit, with The Fall of the House of Usher being a stylish, Gothic-inflected adventure packed with mystery and danger.