Review: Archive 81

While Shudder is the current undisputed King/Queen/Monarch of streaming horror, other apps and services still have some quality offerings. Archive 81 is one such property courtesy of Netflix. Based on and adapted from a podcast of the same name, Archive 81 is a Netflix horror/thriller series that tells the story of a film archivist and handler recovering damaged footage for an eccentric billionaire. Beneath the seemingly simple task, lies a decades long mystery revolving around a presumed dead woman who may or may not have murdered the eccentric billionaire’s brother along with a building full of people. Yet, even that may not be all as it seems, for beneath that past lies a journey into the occult and rituals and sacrifices and a determined cult with its own agenda and story to unfold.

Archive 81. Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in episode 102 of Archive 81. Cr. Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix © 2021

Mamaoudou Athie stars as Dan Turner, a modern day, eccentric, troubled film conservator who is tasked with restoring some tapes for Virgil Davenport (played by Martin Donovan) of L.M.G. Turner, being intrigued by the first tape he had fixed which showed the introduction to Melody Pendras’s (played by Dina Shihabi) 1994 thesis about an apartment building known as the Visser. The tapes are considered too fragile and damaged to transport safely, so Turner goes to the research facility where they are housed in the middle of nowhere. He is essentially removed from civilization as there are no residents, save on L. M. G. employee, nearby. As well cellphone and internet reception to the home in the middle of the woods is virtually nonexistent. Dan gets to work on the restoration job upon arriving by cleaning and viewing the tapes.

This system of Dan watching and fixing the tapes is the framework the series uses to tell both major narratives of the show. In the present, Dan is dealing with the unraveling mystery he witnesses on the tapes he is restoring. As he watches more, he comes to learn that the events that transpired in 1994 may have had a direct connection to the defining tragedy of his life: the sudden death of his family by arson. He also realizes that his employer has a deeply invested interest in the information found in the damaged footage and the truth of what happened to his brother and the Visser. Perhaps the most shocking revelation is the attachment and affection that Dan grows with the seemingly doomed Melody though her fate may not be as certain as initially believed.

Archive 81. Dina Shihabi as Melody Pendras in episode 105 of Archive 81. Cr. Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix © 2021

Like Dan, the audience also witnesses the events transpiring in the tapes as an accompanying story to the present timeline. In the narrative of the tapes, Melody Pendras is a new tenant to the Visser. She is working on her thesis by interviewing the inhabitants of the building and documenting their stories as a form of living, oral history in conjunction with her work. Or at least that is her cover story. In reality, Melody received a letter from her biological mother from an address listed as the Visser. Believing that her mother might be alive, Melody is searching for any clue or information concerning her from her former place of residence. Of course, just as with Dan, there is far more going on at the Visser that Melody begins to uncover the longer she stays and the more she gets to know her neighbors.

The two stories continue on through the eight episodes of the series with the past and present influencing events in both timelines. Dan and Melody find a mutual trust and affection between them as they navigate the strange nature of their respective paths. Eventually, the events of both timelines intersect to a climax involving ritualistic sacrifice, interdimensional travel, an influential and powerful cult, and possibly the revelation of the Elder Gods. The last bit is up for some level of interpretation, but the case could definitely be made.

I won’t go further into details concerning the story because, again, I genuinely recommend this show and hope you will watch it. Archive 81 is a legitimately intriguing series and story. The acting is superb with every actor giving great performances. And while everyone is good, the two primary actors, Athie and Shihabi, are perfection. Many scenes are dependent on just them being on screen alone and carrying the narrative and emotion on their shoulders. Neither buckles under pressure. Beyond their performances, the story is interesting and intelligent without being bogged down by its own mystery or being too far up its own ass to be enjoyable. Furthermore, the show does a great job of differentiating between the two time periods while building atmosphere and suspense and intrigue to entice audiences to keep going along the journey with both Turner and Pendras.

Why do cults get all the cool masks?

Horror is a very easy genre to get wrong and miss. Mystery is, in my opinion, even harder. So, it takes skill to pull off both, and Archive 81 manages to accomplish that. It is a compelling and interesting horror mystery that culminates in a satisfying narrative with enough left to tease more to come. Fingers crossed that we get more stories from these characters and universe. There is definitely potential for so much more.

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