Netflix’s latest found-footage horror series, Archive 81, delves into the fabric of time and space, unearthing murky secrets about cults devoted to ancient deities, an otherworldly comet, and two lives intertwined by something more than fate. Based on the hit podcast series of the same name, Archive 81 revolves around archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), who is enlisted in a shady footage restoration job by a shadow MNC named LMG, headed by a man named Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan).
While in isolation during the course of restoring a series of tapes that belonged to a woman named Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), who purportedly went missing after a fire at the Visser in 1994, Dan comes across a wide range of eerie revelations. Not only is Melody embroiled in an ominous set of circumstances (and people) that surround the Visser, but is also inexplicably connected to Dan’s father, who used to be her therapist before dying in a house fire (Dan being the sole survivor of the incident). As the threads of the past unravel, both Dan and Melody are forced to re-evaluate their notion of the truth, their core identities, and what it means to be connected to someone who inhabits a wholly different time and space.
The horror elements in Archive 81 are mostly atmospheric, evoked with the aid of sonic anxiety, which, of-course, was one of the key standouts of the original podcast. The series attempts to do the same with the aid of the strange humming that acts as an eerie refrain throughout the series, the soundscapes inbuilt within scenes, and the inherent terror of playing supposedly “cursed” footage on a VHS tape. The series will also be a delight for those who enjoy the nitty-gritties of shooting on film and capturing the essence of events, much like Dan, who understands the medium enough to be able to restore things that are lost to time, the elements, and something more sinister.
Archive 81 forgoes the podcast’s brilliant incorporation of bone-chilling cosmic horror in favor of an ancient deity that inspires ominous cults over the passage of time. This works to an extent, as the series manages to remain vague about certain character motivations while offering bits of backstory about certain religio-mythological aspects integral to the cult’s beliefs. While the slow-burn aspect might work for most viewers, others might feel that the series is rather too slow-paced, given that the characters are allowed to evolve pretty freely, and much does not occur immediately within the first 30 minutes or so. Nevertheless, the payoff is definitely worth it, as the reveals at the end are mostly satisfying, barring, of-course, the obvious cliffhangers placed for a potential Season 2.
In terms of performances, Shihabi is the obvious standout, as she manages to evoke a considerable amount of interest via her personal narrative, while Athie does a fair job of making viewers root for Dan. Ariana Neal, who plays Jess, delivers an incredibly nuanced and mature performance, while the rest of the cast is pretty good at binding the tale together. While the special effects towards the end are not the greatest, Archive 81 makes up for the same via incredible attention to detail, sound allusions, and solid aesthetics that amp up the anxiety that builds over the episodes. Overall, a pretty gripping watch, especially for those who adore found-footage horror and plots revolving around cults.
‘Archive 81’ Season 1 is streaming on Netflix.