Jill is called to the funeral of her old friend Maddy Usher. When she arrives at the funeral, she meets up with her ex-boyfriend Roderick Usher. She learns that Maddy died from a disease that robs them of their mind, a disease passed through the generations of the family. It does not take long before Roderick convinces Jill to remain to help him cope with the grief of the loss of his sister. The longer Jill remains in the house, the more she realizes that the circumstances surrounding Maddy’s death may be worse than it seems.
The Edgar Allen Poe short story The Fall of the House of Usher is told by an unnamed narrator who witnesses the decent into madness of his old friend Roderick Usher following the death of his sister Madeline Usher. The story is just as much a haunted house story as a story of madness while the actual house lends a hand in the madness and eventually faces demise alongside the Usher siblings.
When director Hayley Cloake and writer Collin Chang decided to rework the story into a new film, they decided to take the story and add some interesting touches to it. The 1960 Roger Corman version of the film relied on the schlocky horror that Corman was best known for and kept the storyline close to the original short. In her commentary, Cloake said they decided to add a little of their own flavor to the curse of the Usher twins.
Roderick and Maddy Usher had disappeared years before, leaving their best friend and lover Jill behind with nothing more than a note announcing their departure. Jill had lived in anger and hurt since their departure, yet had never really let go of the feelings she once held for Roderick. Then one day she received the fateful phone from Roderick that informed her of the death of Maddy and the request that she attend the funeral.
The film ignores the haunted house plot device and instead focuses on fleshing out the actual curse of the Usher twins. We meet Rupert at the funeral, an employee of the Usher estate who immediately lets us know that something there is not right. This point is driven home by the caretaker of the estate, Mrs. Thatcher, who regards Jill with distaste and is extremely rude to her at every point. Mrs. Thatcher makes it clear that Jill is not wanted there, and that she should leave to return home “while she still can.”
Jill believes she is losing her mind, convinced she sees Maddy on numerous occasions. Roderick tries to convince her that is not possible, since Maddy is dead and buried. Soon thereafter, Jill and Roderick renew their relationship and soon their lives begin to spiral out of control.
The movie is well shot and directed and keeps your interest all the way through. There are problems with the script, as at many points it tends to be a little too clever. At one point when Roderick is talking about his disease, he walks up behind Jill and says “It is catching.” Cue the music beat. But, see, her dress is catching on a thorn bush. There is also a point where Roderick is reading a book that is a hint at where the plot is going, a title that the director really believes is clever, but just seems to be beating the idea over your head. Yes, the conclusion is clever; you don’t have to keep telling us.
The movie is quite clever and looks very good. The acting is decent as well. Izabella Miko and Austin Nichols had good chemistry throughout the movie. I did have a slight problem because Jill came across as a bitch and Roderick seemed to be a little too wooden, but when they shared scenes together they did just fine. There were also moments in the movie where we just watched Roderick working on writing a book, and heard his voice over of what he was writing. While these moments were boring, I understand it was meant to be a tip of the hat to the original story. Beth Grant did fine as well. She was not really up to the level she portrayed in Donnie Darko, but a lot of that is due to the restraints of her character from the script. The points in the movie where she is allowed to improvise show how much more developed her character could have been.
Cloake’s direction was quite good and the picture looked very nice. I understand it won an award for its cinematography at the Boston Film Festival and it deserved that recognition. The lead up to the reveal was well done also. The movie is a solid genre flick and gives a very original spin to the original Poe tale.
The picture is very nice considering the restraints of the budget. Shot in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen letterbox (2:35:1) all the colors shine through and the looks of the house are muted enough to give the movie the eerie feeling it needed. The 5.1 Dolby digital surround was great and the music was always omnipresent yet never overpowering. There were moments, mainly when you were listening to the voiceover as Roderick writes his book, I needed subtitles to understand what he was saying, but that is more the dialect of the actor than a problem with the sound quality. This is a movie with a budget of just over $100,000 that looks like it cost much more. It was a very nice transfer.
There is a director’s commentary track with Haley Cloake that is extremely informative. She speaks at great length about the differences brought to the original Poe story and was enthusiastic when pointing out certain scenes. She always has something to say, whether it is technical knowledge or just interesting trivia tidbits but she never speaks over the head of the listener.
There are also a number of deleted scenes, most of which are just an expansion of scenes that play better without them. Trailers round out the package.