The Fall of the House of Usher Gave Us What We Wanted — And We Hated It

Spoilers

Director and showrunner Mike Flanagan has always been a “listener” when understanding the human condition.

While his genre of choice has been horror, and primarily psychological horror at that, he has made a career out of listening to what people have to say about religion, guilt, insanity, and death.

He is as much a spiritual guru as a movie director.

Even from his early works, like Absentia and Oculus, one could see Flanagan as a visionary and an interactive designer, determined to deliver the audience an experience they crafted, a game, a nightmare they could vicariously live through archetypical characters.

He became even more crowd-pleaser with his first two ghostly mini-series, The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor.

These epic haunted tales blurred the lines between guilt and fear.

Midnight Mass

While Midnight Mass was Flanagan’s most profound and brilliant work to date (deserving of an article all its own), his last two mini-series were his most radical deviations from the Flanagan formula.

The Midnight Club was an exercise in pain and desperation as if Flanagan wanted to curl up next to you on the couch and listen to you grieve.

Shasta - The Midnight Club

What else could such a man of technical wizardry and emotional vulnerability say to his audience now?

Perhaps he listened to the many cries of disenfranchised, poverty-stricken, and angry protesters who were and still are shaming billionaires for their lives of luxury and their “Let them eat cake” response to burgeoning socialism in the United States.

For over ten years, Hollywood has struggled to make a film that reflects the attitudes of “Occupy,” “Cancel Culture,” and “Eat the Rich” going on.

The Dark Knight Rises touched on it. The Hunger Games explored it in a dopey way.

But no movie or series attempted to discuss the phenomenon of what we’ve been seeing.

Watch Them Rain - The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 8

Until The Fall of the House of Usher, a fascinating glimpse into the filthy rich and allegedly unethical lives of billionaires and the corporations that make the world go round.

Only Flanagan would attempt to “listen” and transform the Occupy controversy into an homage to morbid poet Edgar Allen Poe.

Unsurprisingly, Poe fans were bored out of their minds. Horror fans were horrified by all the talking and the delayed gore sequences.

As usual, Flanagan created something immersive, almost sympathetic, to the story’s antagonist.

In this case, he dared you to live the life of corrupted pharmaceutical head Roderick Usher and his sister Madeline Usher, reincarnated into a modern-day billionaire family.

I Want a New Deal - The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 7

The filmmaker didn’t just post their sins as a placard.

He explored their entire story, from underdogs and dreamers to victims to the morally decayed pods of humanity they evolved into.

Was the only way to reach these billionaire ghouls and their blackened hearts to kill off each of their children in true biblical fashion?

(Flanagan, an avowed atheist, is always eager to discuss religion in his films)

And when that failed, was the only way to remind the Ushers of their lifelong sins to send them a time-traveling ghost to poke at their conscience?

Of course, even some of Flanagan’s fans hated the radical experiment.

Are We Sure? - The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 5

It was so much like life; it was, at once, boring, painful to watch, hard to empathize with, and difficult to relate to Poe.

The issue could be that no one on the bottom cares about the problems of the rich, famous, and notorious.

How could we, while living in a post-Me Too age and a post-Cancel Culture existence, where we DO hold celebrities up to higher standards?

Maybe the issue was that the series limped along a few episodes too much when its entire point could probably have been told in a two- or three-hour movie and nixed all the subplots about the Usher children and their creepy marriages.

Mike Flanagan may have been influenced by the recent success of paper-pushing bore porn, like HBO’s Succession.

Flanagan may have thought we eat this stuff up, you know, the suspicious checks written, the duplicitous lawyer speak, and the tainted studies that killed people.

Thinking What to Do - The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 7

But aside from IRS agents, very few filmgoers would ever find the day-to-day lives of billionaires all that interesting.

It’s also unfortunate that Flanagan had to choose Poe to tell his story of Modern Polarized America since The Fall of the House of Usher was probably not the best Edgar Allen Poe project of 2023.

Addressing the Family - The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 1

The Pale Blue Eye, starring Christian Bale and Harry Melling, is a gothic mystery film that utilizes Poe’s reality, along with a highly embellished plot, to create a genuinely terrifying love song that Poe himself would appreciate.

The Fall of the House of Usher, while Flanagan’s most ambitious project to date and one certainly deserving of a second viewing, didn’t quite reach the heart of his audience.

In simple words, revolution doesn’t care about your feelings. Shockingly, war is emotionally abusive.

And reaching for pathos so profoundly into the dregs of Hell (as did Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built) has to come at a price.

Everything Is Fortunato's - The Fall of the House of Usher Season 1 Episode 6

With The Fall of the House of Usher, Flanagan listened so hard that he became overwhelmed by the millions of divided voices and struggled to make a film that submerged viewers into a world they wanted to visit.

While he will likely stick to paranormal dramas for a while — he’s already directing the next Exorcist movie — he shouldn’t completely abandon exploring new genres.

He has the talent to do it and the patience to listen to what we’re saying.

I see an Oscar in his future if he continues to dig deep and reach the heart of a jaded society.

Michael Arangua is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow him on X.

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