Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Spoiler ravens incoming!
Created by a pair of ruthless twin siblings long ago, the current Usher pharmaceutical empire begins crumbling into dust as patriarch Roderick’s adult children begin dying off.
Oh this is a gorgeous one y’all, full of mood and tension and supernatural horror to knock your socks off, sure, but also sporting incredible performances from every single cast member. So let’s dive (off a high-rise balcony) into this!
In the beginning, young Roderick Usher (Zach Gilford) and his twin sister Madeline (Willa Fitzgerald) came from nothing. Their religious fanatic of a mother Eliza (Annabeth Gish) worked as a secretary and occasional mattress-toy for their father William Longfellow (Robert Longstreet), the former CEO of the Fortunato pharmaceutical company. Which is all a glorious irony, because when mother gets sickly, she adamantly refuses to see a doctor due to her religious beliefs, and the children are left to fend for themselves when their father callously denies both them, and their mother, acknowledgement of any kind. And paid a heavy price for it too, when an enraged spirit rose from her grave to exact her righteous vengeance.
Here in the present, old and haggard Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), Fortunato pharmaceutical emperor, opioid king, is haunted by his past mistakes, but also by the specters of his dead adult children. Diagnosed with a heroic list of physical (and let’s face it, mental) ailments, Roderick decides to invite his old nemesis Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly) to a secret location, for a full confession of all his crimes, against the world and the courts and even Auggie himself, but most especially against his own family.
Every single one of Roderick’s children comes with a name from an Edgar Allen Poe story and a whole laundry list of odd issues and secrets. Frederick Usher (Henry Thomas), the eldest and heir to the Fortunato empire, has trust issues with his wife Morella (Cystal Balint), and apparently the only actual grandchild thus far, Lenore (Kyliegh Curran). Far as I can tell, Frederick doesn’t actually do anything, other than regurgitate Roderick’s business policies and family fixer-attorney Arthur Pym’s (Mark Hamill) warnings about close-mouthedness as far as the public, media, and especially the law goes. Lenore is of course absolutely beloved by her grandfather, while her mother Morella seems to have past issues with another of Roderick’s kids, Prospero, or Perry (Sauriyan Sapkota) as he prefers to be called.
Frederick’s eldest legitimate daughter, named Tamerlane (really? Wow) but of course she’s called Tammy (Samantha Sloyan) by most, has aspirations of being a different kind of family entrepreneur with her husband Bill Wilson (Matt Biedel) and his fitness influencer lifestyle. Tammy puts a lot of pressure on herself, has frankly utterly ridiculous demands her husband has to follow, and a very unusual way of using call girls to have a … one-some? practically every night. No kink-shaming here of course, but even I raised an eyebrow at Tammy’s nightly adventures and lack of actual sleep.
Camille L’Espanaye (Kate Siegel) is one of Roderick’s several illegitimate children, sharp-tongued and savvy is she, as the head of public relations for Fortunato. Her hair an iconic silvery-white, likely a nod to the older L’Espanaye women of the Poe story, she stalks the scandals, social media, the backgrounds and vices of all the Ushers, and is utterly ruthless in using everything in her power to spin doctor every last Usher disaster as quickly as possible. The on-going trial with older Auggie barely registers in Camille’s arrogant countenance, as she works those sharp-as-steel wits in overtime to address the sudden domino deaths of her siblings. Camille’s casual mistreatment of her two aides Toby and Tina as little more than walking, not talking, sexual stress relievers, it’s apparently literally in their employment contracts and multiple NDAs, is just as horrific as the misdeeds as the other Ushers, and her death comeuppance has a delicious irony to it in this regard.
Victorine LaFourcade (T’Nia Miller) is the eldest of Roderick’s illegitimate children, tall and black and statuesque, a genius heart surgeon on whom Roderick places a ton of expectations and pride. Her partner Dr. Alessandra “Ali” Ruiz (Paola Nunez) is a partner in every sense of the word, both at work and at home, and while Ali has great faith in her gorgeous genius of a partner, she is also leery of using untried Fortunato products in their heart and pace-maker research. The grotesque labs full of monkey test animals and outright lies from an increasingly paranoid and pressured Victorine bring to mind the disaster that led to 28 Days Later, another master horrorpiece.
Poor Napoleon, or Leo (Rahul Kohli) as he rightfully prefers to be called, tatted up and drugged out of his mind more often than not, can’t even rightly claim being a video game designer, as he tries to. No, Leo is a video game publisher and is adrift on the Usher money and lifestyle, both pulling away and edging back to the family that finds him a few shades disappointing. His boyfriend Julius (Daniel Jun) tries so very hard to be just chill about Leo’s increasing paranoia, depression, and hey, feud with that damnable black cat.
The youngest of the illegitimate Usher children, Prospero known as Perry seems determined to live the life of a young bacchanal, full of drugs and sex with multiple partners, an exclusive VIP party that seemingly never ends, and Perry would be the gatekeeper, the overlord of the orgy. His eager ideas for a very posh orgy-porgy amongst the bright young things of the city, with him emperor Dionysus above all, while cute, lacks anything resembling common sense. Indeed, Perry thinks the best place to have his pop-up party of the century is a disused private lab testing site for Fortunato pharma and was meant to have been torn down long ago, but since the Usher family owns these sites (allegedly) he can go ahead and use them worry-free, right? Gives a whole new terrifying spin to, “Make it rain!”
The whole thing with the trial and an elderly but still spry Auguste, and how it directly relates back to that time in the ‘80’s when a much younger Auggie (Malcolm Goodwin) and younger Mads (Willa Fitzgerald) and younger Roderick (Zach Gilford) all wanted to take on current Fortunato head Rufus Griswold (Michael Trucco) and the absolute ass of a jester he’s acting like, is the kind of full-circle irony that a tidy universe loves to show us. Indeed, it’s way back here on a fateful night where, after a beleaguered Roderick has betrayed pretty much everyone but his twin sister, because Mads always has a plan for long-term revenge, that they meet a very strange bartender, who offers them both the deal of several lifetimes.
The woman, or rather the entity that we come to associate as the specter of Death, is never actually given a name. The show BTS information calls her Verna (Carla Gugino), a rearrangement of raven, arguably Poe’s most well-known poem and known in many cultures as the bringer of death, if not Death itself. As the Usher children begin dying, Verna pops up and either guides them through it, or in a rather Final Destination fashion, outright causes their deaths to happen. Verna made a rather monstrous offer of a deal to the Usher twins long ago, they both had to take her up on it, which begins the domino effect that leads all the way to the real fall of the House of Usher, and its lasting legacy on the entire Usher bloodline. Verna encourages the Usher empire founders to think of themselves like that, referring to Mads as Cleopatra and nudging Roderick with his obsession of suicide by khopesh, or the legendary sapphire eyes of Egyptian Queen Twosret, none of which helps the mindset of the Usher family.
The Poe references splashed throughout, the use of light and shadow as each Usher character declines into madness (or dives), absolutely stellar performances from a powerhouse cast, all make for a ride through the haunted legacy of the House of Usher worth repeated viewings!
Be there for the collapse of an empire in The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix now!