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

Netflix’s Archive 81 | A Different Reality Of Entertainment 

Sometimes we ask – “Why do we pay our Netflix subscription?” Then a series such as Archive 81 lands and we re-evaluate that statement. We find ourselves thrown into a world of addictive ‘binge watching’ – screaming at the screen when the last scene rolls. To be fair, Netflix hit the ground running already this year with the sublime whodunit Stay Close, and continuing with a twisted narrative, Archive 81 is just as engaging. So for fans of that, this is a must, although a much wider and diverse audience will cling to the abyss into the supernatural that Archive 81 spirals into. 

It’s worth sticking with Archive 81 despite (or perhaps because of) the slow start. This is down to the immersive character development, a necessity as the series progresses. The balance of drawing you into the characters’ world, ensuring the audience feelings in touch with them, understanding their motivations, and how the overall storyline plays out is superb – that is something that this series executes perfectly. There is a dual-lead role narrative, which is quite layered and, as we soon find out, connected.

The first is the shy, withdrawn Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie). A lost, pained man who uses his time to recondition old video tapes. The second is the similarly lost Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), a woman in search of answers to her past. We fist meet her when she’s taking an apartment at the mysterious Visser building in a bid to find her long-lost mother. Shihabi gives an excellent performance while Athie is harder to warm. He comes across as stiff at first but loosens out as the series rolls along. 

One important fact to remember before hitting play; James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) is executive producer and that fact gives you a glimpse into how creepy things will become. The lighting rod to all the events in Archive 81 is the shady multi-millionaire Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan), who tasks Dan with restoring a selection of damaged video camera tapes (Hi8) in a secluded compound. With a substantial monetary reward waiting for him when completed, Dan gets to work and things start to slowly take an eerie turn. The subject of the damaged tapes is of course Melody, and elements of the ‘found footage‘ subgenre enters the equation. We find Melody using her Hi8 camera to interview people at the building, but at night she becomes unnerved by a strange chanting coming through the apartment vent. 


Both Dan and Melody connect across the years. Not in any romantic way: this begins as a one-way relationship between two kindred spirits living in a world of isolation. And the further we go into Archive 81 there’s a shift from suspense drama to supernatural horror happens very quickly. The entrance of witches, demons, ritual sacrifice, and inter-dimensional beings might initially seem far-fetched for the storyline, but the skill of the series’ directors Rebecca Thomas (Stranger Things), Justin Benson (Spring), and Haifaa al-Mansour (Mary Shelley) manage to stylishly fuse these dark factors without going into a realm of ridiculous. 

Using an effective trick (recently seen in last year’s Disney+ winner WandaVision), audiences are given a fake advertisement or newsreel at the outset of each episode that forms part of the story. The settings are visually dark, from the dimly lit corridors of the apartment building to the sterile concrete compound. All this adds to the tension that builds, alongside the show’s lack of colour and even positivity. Perhaps the one relief is the touches of nostalgia that come through from the music of the 90s: Kurt Cobain and the Twin Towers bring us all back to a different era.

What is refreshing is at no point throughout Archive 81 will you guess the twisted final. That is quite the achievement in this age of repetition. It leaves itself wide open for a second series: if they can replicate the caustic atmosphere then that will make for essential viewing.

Archive 81 is currently streaming on Netflix.

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