The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Review – Mike Flanagan builds an Edgar Allan Poe cinematic universe

The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Review

Edgar Allan Poe’s genius and Mike Flanagan’s direction make for
a Gothic horror cinematic experience

Season 1

 

 

Episode Guide

A Midnight Dreary – | Review Score – 5/5
The Masque of the Red Death – | Review Score – 5/5
Murder in the Rue Morgue – | Review Score – 5/5
The Black Cat – | Review Score – 4.5/5
The Tell-Tale Heart – | Review Score – 4/5
Goldbug – | Review Score – 3.5/5
The Pit and the Pendulum – | Review Score – 4.5/5
The Raven – | Review Score – 5/5

The Netflix series The Fall of the House of Usher, created by Mike Flanagan, who has unquestionably garnered a devoted following, explores various themes, symbols, and literary devices found in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, a highly acclaimed figure in the realm of Gothic literature. This twisted horror drama revolves around an affluent family, with similarities to the television series Succession.

Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell), the dynamic yet crooked Usher siblings, seize and expand a pharmaceutical powerhouse Fortunato, and their entrepreneurial spirit lives on through Roderick’s offspring. Nevertheless, after the passage of several decades, the family experiences a tragic turn of events as Roderick’s descendants fall victim to untimely deaths when they are put on trial by the brilliant attorney C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly). In the face of legal proceedings as well as the persistent presence of a foreboding woman, the formidable family works tirelessly to uphold their reputation and confront their past demons.

The gothic horror miniseries draws inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s body of work, particularly his short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The short story is subsequently amalgamated with further literary compositions authored by Edgar Allan Poe, with each episode being named after them. Furthermore, a number of his poetic compositions and short stories find their way into The Fall of the House of Usher, manifesting in the form of character names and the recitation of poetic verses, among other means. This fusion is skillfully shown across eight episodes, wherein the narrative is filtered through a contemporary lens, enhancing its relevance and appeal to the audience.

Throughout the horror drama, Flanagan draws upon his prior works to guide his narrative techniques. Similar to The Haunting of Bly Manor, the narrative of the story is presented in the form of a firsthand account, directly recounted by the narrator. However, this feature can also be traced to the short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, which serves as the inspiration for the show. Furthermore, similar to the television series The Midnight Club, every episode of the show is a rendition of a distinct short story. The initial episode introduces us to the primary plot, and the subsequent seven episodes delve into terrible happenings in the Usher family.

Throughout the show, the struggle between sanity and insanity serves as an underlying theme. Poe often depicted his characters falling further and deeper into lunacy. The show seems to be making excellent use of that, since we can see the Ushers getting increasingly neurotic. At first, Roderick experiences hallucinations as a consequence of his medical condition, which appears to be growing increasingly intense and realistic as the episodes go on. As the show goes on, his children experience hallucinations as well.

Another recurring theme in the gothic horror is the clash between the supernatural and insanity. Throughout The Fall of the House of Usher, there are a number of moments that will make you question whether or not what you witnessed was a hallucination or an actual supernatural presence. For instance, when Prospero looks up, he sees a woman in red standing on the roof for a split second. Though, whether that was merely a product of his imagination or a genuine supernatural being is kept in the dark till the very end. Another instance is when Roderick encounters a clown jester in the car and in the church. Until the very last episode, it is questionable whether this is a hallucination or a supernatural element at play.

The show also uses one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most interesting themes from “The Fall of the House of Usher”: the protagonist’s dramatic shift in temperament. Roderick’s demeanor goes from calm to neurotic in an instant while talking to the attorney. Throughout his conversation with Auguste, he keeps going back and forth, to the point where Auguste gets startled.

The stunning and terrifying visual imagery used is one of the show’s most striking features. Like in Poe’s works, the nightclub in the episode titled “The Masque of the Red Death” features vivid colors like red, blue, and yellow. Since blue represents new life and red represents death, we see very little of the former on the dance floor and a lot of the latter around the room and dance floor, much as we do in Poe’s work.

The sight of a burned Morella clutching Arthur’s feet, for instance, in “Murder in the Rue Morgue”, is enough to give you the creeps. It’s also disturbing to watch as her daughter tries to stop her from removing her bandages in the hospital. From the woman on the roof to Roderick’s hallucinations, the imagery lasts for only a few seconds at most, but it leaves a lasting and disturbing effect.

Edgar Allan Poe frequently employed the use of sound and other forms of noise to heighten the reader’s experience of the works’ underlying emotions. The show’s execution of this element is both unsettling and brilliant. The eerie music and sound effects are especially effective during the most disturbing situations, such as when Arthur wanders around the abandoned building or Camille is entering the laboratory.

Another instance is when a clock can be heard ticking in the background as Roderick and Madeline reach out to their mother as she emerges from the grave. If you really listen, the sound of the clock ticking can be extremely chilling.

All the iconic ticking and pounding noises from “The Tell-Tale Heart” are executed perfectly in episode 5. The atmosphere created by the soundscape grows chilling and foreboding, much as it did in the short story. Another instance is when Victorine fights to keep the chimpanzee alive, and we are alarmed by the rhythmic beeping of the pacemaker. The sound is used for a fairly simple purpose, but it has a surprisingly profound and frightening effect on audiences.

The show also uses intricate symbolism that is a hallmark of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. For instance, after the funeral ceremony, we spot a raven outside the church. We also spot a raven fly into Roderick’s home and in the graveyard. Ravens are believed to symbolize never-ending sadness in Edgar Allan Poe’s writings. In the show, the symbolism was meaningful and eerily chilling.

Like in Poe’s works, we witness the raven fly in and land on top of Pallas Athena’s bust during the final episode. Athena is a prominent goddess in Greek mythology, revered as the embodiment of wisdom and strategic prowess in the realm of warfare. By sitting over her bust, the raven places itself in a position of superiority over reason and logic. In Poe’s writing and in the show, the raven serves as a metaphor for the disruption of order by chaos, mirroring the descent of the mourning Roderick into the irrational forces at play.

Pluto, the cat, has a significant symbolic meaning in “The Black Cat” that is both unsettling and fascinating. In Greek mythology, Pluto is essentially Hades, the God of the Underworld. Like the cat in Poe’s writing, this one makes sure that Napoleon pays the price for his crime. Additionally, the cat stays true to his name; much like Hades, the cat too is behind the death of Napoleon.

The primary characters featured in the show are derived from a diverse range of characters found throughout the literary works of Edgar Allan Poe. The characters exemplify the attributes and disposition of the characters found in the literary works of Edgar Allan Poe, albeit with a certain degree of reinterpretation. Nevertheless, the execution is of such high quality that one cannot refrain from commending the creative brilliance exhibited throughout.

The character Annabel Lee has been shaped by Poe’s poem “Annabel Le.” Furthermore, the character Prospero, symbolizing prosperity, is derived from Poe’s literary work “The Masque of the Red Death.” Several key characters derived from the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe include Roderick, Madeline, Arthur Pym, C. Auguste Dupin, and Lenore, among others.

The gothic horror series encompasses a vast ensemble, resulting in varying degrees of character development among the characters. The primary characters that receive the most extensive exploration in the narrative are Roderick Usher, portrayed by Bruce Greenwood; Madeline Usher, played by Mary McDonnell; and Auguste Dupin, depicted by Carl Lumbly. Mark Hamill, who plays Arthur Pym, is another one of the show’s standouts. His versatility and acting chops in portraying the character are outstanding. Additionally, Carla Gugino’s portrayal of Verna stands out as a fierce antagonist throughout the narrative.

In addition to this, each episode centers on one of the Usher heirs, providing insight into the circumstances surrounding their downfalls. It should be noted that these characters do deliver commendable performances. Nevertheless, certain characters in this context exhibit a greater degree of one-dimensionality compared to others, a characteristic that is contingent upon the demands of the storyline, given the expansive ensemble cast of the show. The actors in the show deliver exceptional performances, exhibiting a high level of emotional range in their respective roles. Given that they are all brilliant in their respective roles, selecting the finest performances is a challenging task.

As a whole, Mike Flanagan’s direction and Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliance result in a Gothic horror show that is top-notch in terms of storytelling, visual imagery, symbolism, sound design, and performances. This cinematic literary experience is highly recommended for English majors and those who have a deep appreciation for the works of Edgar Allan Poe. More character development would have been delightful, but because it isn’t essential to the plot, it’s easy to look beyond that. Overall, The Fall of the House of Usher was a terrific show, and it’s definitely worth watching.

 


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  • Verdict - 9/10
    9/10
9/10

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