Right now, “The Fall of the House of Usher” has thrown streamers for a loop.
The eight-part Gothic horror series, loosely moulded on various works by 19th-century author Edgar Allan Poe, is a mesmerising melting pot of secrets, deception and ruthless ambition. And it is rooted in poetic justice.
This offering is the brainchild of Mike Flanagan, who gave us “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Midnight Mass”. As such, his Midas touch in unsettling the viewer with eerie twists is inescapable.
At the heart of this story is Roderick Usher, played by Bruce Greenwood and Zach Gilford, as the younger version, and his guileful twin sister and right hand, Madeline (played by Mary McDonnell and Willa Fitzgerald, as the younger version).
Their fate is tied to Fortunato Pharmaceuticals, where their mother Eliza worked as a secretary for its CEO, William Longfellow (Robert Longstreet), who they learn is their father.
However, up until he is killed, he refuses to acknowledge them as his own flesh and blood.
Through their profound poverty from childhood, where they are orphaned after the untimely passing of their mother, Roderick and Madeline learned to be resourceful and manipulate situations to their advantage.
They knew that if they were to fulfil their quest to “change the world”, they needed to be a cut above the rest of the employees at Fortunato.
The early episodes delve into how Roderick and Madeline’s devastating childhood transformed them into marble-hearted young adults.
In the present day, Roderick, now a business tycoon, is devastated by the successive untimely deaths of his six children, from different mothers. Let’s just say, his libido matched his ambition.
Madeline continues to be his rock but the tragedy that has befallen the Usher house is no coincidence.
It’s linked to their past, one anchored to an unreal night on New Year’s Eve of 1979, where they met an enigmatic woman named Verna (Carla Gugino), who made them a tempting offer.
She assured the twins that fame and fortune would be theirs as they helmed Fortunato Pharmaceuticals and that they would never be prosecuted for any crime, including killing Rufus Griswold (Michael Trucco), who succeeded Longfellow.
The Usher heirs would be left wanting for nothing. But there was a catch: the Usher bloodline would die with Roderick.
Engulfed by grief, Roderick unburdens his demons to his long-time nemesis C. Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly), an assistant US attorney who has spent his entire career trying to bring Fortunato Pharmaceuticals to book for corruption.
Dupin linked the company’s pain drug, Ligadone, to thousands of deaths and, in being introduced on the market, they paved the way for the opioid epidemic that followed.
But thanks to the Usher lawyer and fixer, Arthur Gordon Pym (Mark Hamill), Roderick and Madeline have been untouchable.
As the body count of heirs starts piling up, Roderick and Madeline are forced to face their dark past.
In unravelling the truth for Dupin, Roderick’s legacy is revisited and it goes back to his marriage to Annabel Lee (Katie Parker), who is the mother of Frederick (Henry Thomas) and Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan).
Tamerlane is married to fitness influencer William “Bill-T” Wilson (Matt Biedel). She channels her inner Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop founder) with her Goldbug lifestyle range. Henry, on the other hand, is a mass disappointment despite being the Fotunato heir.
The only positive contribution from Henry is his altruistic daughter, Lenore (Kyliegh Curran), who is the apple of her grandfather’s eye.
Roderick’s illegitimate offspring include Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel), who is the company’s calculated spin doctor; Leo (Rahul Kohli), a gay video game publisher who has a drug addiction, Victorine LaFourcade (T’Nia Miller), a gifted surgeon who desperately wants to make history with an experimental heart device despite the costs; and, Perry (Sauriyan Sapkota), the youngest of the siblings and the most reckless with his hedonistic lifestyle.
As a family, they are the epitome of dysfunction as they try to outdo one another. As much as the siblings can’t stand one another, they are united in their dislike towards Juno (Ruth Codd), Roderick’s much younger wife and a former drug addict.
Each episode unpacks the gruesome demise of an Usher and the ripple effect it has on the remaining family members, who are drowning in their own paranoia.
The cinematography, especially with the death scenes, is visually striking with the dark hues and ominous presence of a crow.
The casting matches the brilliance of the script with each character a tour de force with their respective story arcs.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” is a powerful Gothic horror, which unpacks the fallible nature of human beings when money is no object. It taps into greed, arrogance, lies, deception and regret as it explores the sins of the father, so to speak.
∎ “The Fall of the House of Usher” is streaming on Netflix.