REVIEW: ‘Archive 81’ Delivers, Horror, Noir, and Science Fiction In One

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Netflix horror series have quickly become my favorite genre that comes from the streaming platform’s studio. Last year, Brand New Cherry Flavor stole my heart and this year Archive 81 is here to make it stop. An original story loosely inspired by the audio drama podcast of the same name, Archive 81 has been brought is brought to life by showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine with James Wan and Michael Clear serving as producers on the series. The series stars Mamoudou Athie, Dina Shihabi, Matt McGorry, Martin Donovan, Julia Chan, Evan Jonigkeit, and Ariana Neal.

Archive 81 follows archivist Dan Turner (Athie), who takes a job restoring a collection of damaged videotapes from 1994. What’s on the tapes? Well, it’s the work of Melody Pendras (Shihabi), a young documentary filmmaker who is set on documenting life in the Visser apartment building. However, a simple look into the lives of the residents morphs into a dark and dangerous descent into a cult. As the season unfolds across these two timelines, Dan slowly finds himself obsessed with uncovering what happened to Melody. As paranoia builds and obsession takes hold, the two characters form a mysterious connection. He learns more about her, the Vessir, and the fear she was spiraling into, and as he does so, Dan becomes convinced he can save her from the terrifying end she met 25 years ago.

As a 10-episode series, Archive 81 spans multiple genres. The series uses science fiction, Lovecraftian and religious horror, a touch of fantasy, and the spiritism of the 1920s all wrapped up in a noir obsession. At times, there is a little too much packed into scenes, but the overload manages to carry the weight of itself, working out each thread of the story as the episodes continue. With all of these elements pulled into one story across two timelines, we get the chance to be scared, tense, and ultimately confused by the mystery that seems to get deeper and darker as Dan chases the rabbit for answers.

That said, the confusion that the series uses isn’t a negative. Archive 81 deftly uses misdirects, timelines, and paranoia to keep you questioning what’s real, what isn’t, and ultimately where the story is going. Like any mystery, the viewer attempts to match the pace of the series and when it works, this builds tension. However, there are some blind spots in the story that are driven by pacing where the show almost loses itself and its audience. Thankfully though, these moments aren’t continuous, and with Athie’s charismatic and driven presence, Archive 81 finds its stride again.

Truthfully, the lore in Archive 81 is extensive and breathtaking with how it blends so many genre elements. But even with the magic of the world created in the series, it’s Athie and Shihabi’s performances that make Archive 81 something incredible. For Athie’s part, he play a man seeking justice, seeking mystery, and searching for reality in something truly supernatural. As Dan, our noir detective in a horror, Athie gives a range of emotion and paranoia and commands his place in the story. As Melody, Shihabi is equally as captivating in her role. She’s terrified and fierce and as she begins to unravel, she brings an erratic and earnest energy that pulls you in. As a viewer, you feel her desperation, her panic, and the danger she’s growing close to not only in the events but in how Shihabi changes her presence on screen as Melody.

Finally, Archive 81 brings creations of pure fear to the forefront in a way that catches the viewer off guard. Beginning each episode with a small vignette that aligns with the episode’s theme, each episode progressively intensifies. There are monstrous visions, an eccentric exorcism, magical and horrifying black residue, and the sheer terror that comes from watching it all through videotapes.

Archive 81 is a strong start for genre series in 2022, it’s horror-filled with a noir edge that will strike many fans. Most of all, there is an intrinsic level of creepiness to the series, even in its silent moments, that makes everything unsettling. While it isn’t perfect, Archive 81 is stunning and after this series and Black Box, I can’t wait to see what other frights and science fiction Athie has in store. Of course, for Archive 81 to reach its full potential, getting greenlit for Season 2 is important, given the series finale.

Archive 81 is streaming exclusively on Netflix now.


Archive 81
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TL;DR

Archive 81 is a strong start for genre series in 2022, it’s horror-filled with a noir edge that will strike many fans. Most of all, there is an intrinsic level of creepiness to the series, even in its silent moments, that makes everything unsettling. While it isn’t perfect, Archive 81 is stunning and after this series and Black Box, I can’t wait to see what other frights and science fiction Athie has in store. Of course, for Archive 81 to reach its full potential, getting greenlit for Season 2 is important, given the series finale.