Winner of this year’s MidWest WeirdFest Best Horror Film award, writer/director George Adams’ Lady Usher is an outré, warped modern reimagining of the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” It’s a delirious psychosexual trip featuring solid performances and an auteur vision.
Roderick (John Tupy) takes a break from college to return to his family home to assist his mother, Lady Usher (Theresa Santiago), with his ailing father (John Ferguson). Roderick’s girlfriend Morgan (Billie D. Merritt) wants to join him, but he strongly argues against it. Morgan pops in for a surprise visit anyway, and immediately sees that her presence is not welcomed by the caustic Lady Usher and the withering Roderick. The two women begin a battle of wills over who lords more control over Roderick, and chilling family secrets begin to be exposed.
Adams constructs a singularly fascinating world within the House of Usher, with the family donned in clothes of the style from decades long past and the house having a fittingly gothic ambience. Adam paces the film slowly but steadily, focusing heavily on the characters and their interactions and secrets rather than on shock and fright, but steadily increasing tension throughout.
Santiago invests Lady Usher with a menacing, acerbic presence, and it is obvious the actress is having a blast with the part. She and Merritt play off of each other marvelously as two strong-willed women who both mean to have their way. Tupy is also impressive as a soft-spoken, resigned young man who is easily manipulated.
Lady Usher is a quirky, unsettling independent horror film that gets under viewers’ skin and goes to places that more-mainstream fright fare usually doesn’t — not in the gore and jump scare department, but in a discomfiting, eldritch manner. Macabre isn’t a word often used to describe current horror fare, but it is perhaps the perfect word to describe this film.
Lady Usher screened as part of MidWest WeirdFest, which took place at the Micon Cinemas Downtown in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, from March 5–7, 2021.(3.5 / 5)