Mike Flanagan is back with his new horror series, The Fall of the House of Usher, an adaptation of the famous Edgar Allan Poe short story, and as you would expect, he has pretty much delivered it. It does have all the familiar traits of Flanagan’s work, along with a dash of snarky, Succession-like humor. The series has at least two standout acting performances, which is also something we get to see in most Flanagan projects. With The Fall of the House of Usher now out in the open, I thought it was a good time to make a list of the best acting performances in Mike Flanagan movies and series. We have picked ten performances, and believe me, it was not an easy thing to do.
I am actually sad that I am unable to find a place on this list for actor Henry Thomas, who is a constant in nine out of ten Flanagan projects. Thomas is a great actor, and he never misses the mark. Rahul Kohli’s performance as Chef Owen in The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), Victoria Pedretti’s lead performance in the same, and Kate Siegel’s role in The Haunting of Hill House (2018) narrowly miss the bus here. Last but not least, I never thought a day would come where we would feel lucky to see a Mike Flanagan and Mark Hamil collaboration, but thanks to The Fall of the House of Usher, we got that, and Hamil was unsurprisingly brilliant in his interpretation of Arthur Pym.
10. Rebecca Ferguson in ‘Doctor Sleep’
Ferguson’s bone-chilling performance as Rose the Hat in Flanagan’s take on Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is the perfect example of how an actor can leave a long-lasting impact even with a very limited amount of screentime. As the cult leader who feeds on young children, Ferguson was terrific, and just the thought of the character gives me chills, even after all these years. The actor admitted to having issues with the fact that her character abuses little kids, which only makes her performance very convincing and worthy enough to be on this list.
The performance sort of went unnoticed as Doctor Sleep tanked at the box office. That is a result of the humongous burden the film has to carry, which is being the sequel to the cult classic Stephen King novel The Shining, which was adapted by the legendary Stanley Kubrick back in 1980. Interestingly, Kubrick’s film, despite being widely acclaimed, didn’t quite get the approval of King himself. Flanagan, on the other hand, mostly remained faithful to the novel and delivered exactly the kind of stuff that you would expect from him—a somber, emotionally charged, and hauntingly melancholic tale with a tinge of hope in the end.
9. Katie Parker in ‘Absentia’
It’s kind of baffling how Katie Parker, a really talented actor who has been around for more than a decade, still doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. In case you’re wondering who that is, it’s the actor who plays Annabel Lee in The Fall of the House of Usher. Parker has been a frequent collaborator of Flanagan from the very beginning, and Absentia, which was the feature film debut for both Flanagan and Parker, happens to be her best performance. The 2011 Indie horror film is about a man who has been missing for seven years and suddenly comes back under unusual circumstances. Parker, the de facto lead of the film, plays his sister-in-law, who gets way too deep into the mystery. The film is the epitome of a bunch of talented actors, under the guidance of a visionary director, pulling off a great genre mash-up story, even with a shoe-string budget. Parker’s performance as Callie, who keeps seeking the truth, is what makes it particularly memorable.
8. Victoria Pedretti in ‘The Haunting of Hill House’
To think this was Victoria Pedretti’s debut and the kind of performance she delivered here! The Haunting of Hill House should be considered the thing that established Flanagan as a modern-day horror supremo. The Netflix miniseries, loosely adapted from Shirley Jackson’s book of the same name, tells the tragic story of the Crain family, who move into the titular house. Pedretti plays Eleanor “Nell” Crain (later Vance), the youngest of the Crain children. Her turnaround from a full-of-life, vivacious young woman to the suicidal Bent Neck Lady is one of the saddest, most terrifying horror story arcs that I have ever witnessed. Pedretti brought in all kinds of emotion in the role and literally screamed her heart out at the moment of the ultimate reveal, which sent shivers down our spines. Not to mention, this established Pedretti as a breakout star and (rightfully) earned her her modern-day Scream Queen status.
7. Carla Gugino in ‘Gerald’s Game’
Carla Gugino is another actor who has worked multiple times with the director, including House of Usher as well. In Flanagan’s 2017 adaptation of the 1992 Stephen King novel, Gugino plays Jessie, who goes on a relaxing vacation with her husband Gerald in a secluded house. Things take a nightmarish turn for Jessie when Gerald suddenly falls dead thanks to a heart attack, and Jessie finds herself handcuffed to the bed, which is a result of something she and Gerald were originally supposed to do, if you know what I mean.
The novel was deemed “unfilmable” for a long time, until Flanagan decided to have a crack at it. The result was more than satisfying, and King himself was highly impressed with the film. Gugino’s performance as this woman trying to get out of a very unfortunate situation while trying to fight her inner demons was universally acclaimed. The difficult subjects of child abuse and deep-lying childhood trauma were handled with the utmost sensitivity, and Gugino pretty much hit it out of the park.
6. Kate Siegel in ‘Hush’
Thanks to its lead character being both deaf and mute, ninety percent of Hush was dialogue-less. What further helped the cause was a lack of activity from the supporting characters. This presented Kate Siegel with an opportunity to deliver a scintillating performance, which would go down as her career best. The neatly made survival thriller had Siegel playing an author, Maddie, living in an isolated house in the forest, who gets hunted by a psychopathic serial killer for an entire night and keeps fighting for her life. The one-line premise was executed fantastically on the screen, and Siegel, who also co-wrote the film with her spouse, Flanagan, pulled it off so well. Her portrayal of Maddie depicted the character’s helplessness as well as her resilience. The disability angle actually added an extra layer to the film.
5. Mary McDonnell And Willa Fitzgerald In ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’
In case you are wondering why we put two actors in the same position, the answer would be pretty simple. Both actors deserve equal credit for fleshing out the character of Madeline Usher in Flanagan’s latest. As the older Madeline, who has seen a lot of things in life already, McDonnell is icy-cold in the role. In the later episodes, she also shows a lot of vulnerability and brings in a rare, humane side of the character. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, gets to say all the coolest lines in the show, which she delivers with a lot of punch. She brings in a lot of sass and sensuality while playing the part of the young and ruthless Madeline, who plays an instrumental role in the rise of the Ushers and their pharmaceutical empire. McDonell and Fitzgerald complement each other’s performances and completely justify their casting in the roles. While the former is a legend in her own right, Fitzgerald should become a popular name after this in the upcoming days.
4. Zach Gilford In ‘Midnight Mass’
Let me clarify one thing first: it was not intentional to put only female actors on the list this far. However, we are finally here. In my humble opinion, Zach Gilford’s performance in the title role of Midnight Mass, which is often regarded as Flanagan’s career-best work, doesn’t get as much appreciation as it should. One of the reasons for that would be Hamish Linklater, who overshadowed almost everyone else in the series and obviously features in this list eventually. But Gilford did a splendid job as the troubled prodigal son returning to his family at Crockett Island after serving his time in prison, where he ended up thanks to an unfortunate car accident caused by drunk-driving.
As the awkward, remorseful young man who is trying to find a purpose in his life, Gilford delivered a rather subtle, understated performance. This was his first time in the Flanagan verse, and the actor not only made the best out of it, he ensured that Flanagan cast him again in future projects. Gilford’s final moments as Riley Flynn in the series will definitely go down as one of the most heartbreaking as well as chilling moments in anything Flanagan has ever made.
3. Samantha Sloyan In ‘Midnight Mass’
After years of making bits-and-pieces appearances in a lot of Flanagan movies and series, actor Samantha Sloyan finally got her chance to show the world what a beast of a performer she really is. I like the fact that Flanagan manages to bring out these star-making performances from lesser-known but talented actors, and this is one profound example of that. Sloyan’s character, Beverly Keane in Midnight Mass, is a religious zealot who seems like the flagbearer of Christianity. In many ways, she is the primary antagonist of the show, and her character doesn’t get to have any sort of redemption. The character received a lot of hate from the audience, which only proved what a terrific job Sloyan did as an actor.
2. Bruce Greenwood And Zach Gilford in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’
It is ironic how Bruce Greenwood only got the chance to play the lead in Flanagan’s latest due to an unforeseen incident that happened during the production, which got Frank Langella, Flanagan’s primary choice for the role, fired. Langella is an acting legend, but it can be safely said that Greenwood has more than made up for it. As the battered old man who is literally awaiting death to grace him, Greenwood is just fantastic. His scenes with Carl Lumby are when the actor shines the brightest.
Gilford, the only actor to feature twice on this list, is equally brilliant as the young Roderick Usher. In stark contrast to Greenwood’s Usher’s deadpan humor, Gilford’s Usher has a light in his eyes and love in his life, and both actors play the same role very differently, which only implies that they got the assignment right. Not to mention, it was great to hear both of them recite Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, Annabel Lee and The Raven, both of which are integral parts of the series.
1. Hamish Linklater In ‘Midnight Mass’
To say Hamish Linklater’s performance in Midnight Mass is phenomenal would be an understatement! Just like Samantha Sloyan, Linklater also happens to be a really talented actor whom you have seen in so many things but never in a substantial role. But in his only collaboration with Flanagan, the actor managed to deliver the kind of performance from which you can’t take your eyes off for a second.
I am not at all exaggerating when I say that I would actually pay to watch Linklater’s character, Father Paul, aka Monsignor Pruitt, just talk endlessly for hours. In a show that deals with themes like death, drug addiction, willpower, and freedom of choice, Linklater’s character commits many questionable acts, but his intentions are never really bad. The duplicity of Father Paul is what makes him fascinating, and Linklater infuses a certain kind of morbid charm into the role, which only elevates the performance to a new height. It’s a pity that the actor doesn’t have an Emmy to show for what he did in the show.