When Lost Media Gets Out of Hand
Archive 81 is a Netflix original series based off of a podcast of the same name. The series follows an archivist that is hired to restore a collection of old tapes, but these tapes are more than they seem. Notably James Wan is a producer on this series, who I am a huge fan of.
This show was overall good. Admittedly, it takes a few episodes to pick up but once it does it kicks into full gear in the second half of episodes and lays out everything that it needs to. Archive 81 is not necessarily scary but rather more unsettling and weird. I believe that James Wan’s presence in the show is felt throughout. I will admit I have not listened to the podcast but now I will for sure.
I very much enjoy the aesthetic of any analog horror and found footage combination. This series gives a similar feeling to the likes of V/H/S, Local 58, Mandela Catalog, and The Walten Files. I also wholeheartedly believe that some specific shots and aesthetic choices emulate Saw (2004) and Archive 81 really delivers with that. There are great visuals that have somewhat been done before, but the show has an overall unique take on the lost media subgenre 90’s aesthetic.
The acting is quality and Dina Shibabi’s performance as Melody particularly stood out to me. I really enjoyed the character of Mark Higgins as well, played by Matt McGorry.
The story is told in two timelines, one in 1994 and one modern day. We cut between the two with flashbacks as we see the story unfold. Really only half of the story is found footage, the 1994 timeline. The found footage is essentially the driving force of the story while Dan is figuring things out in the present day that connect back. This is a paranormal story and the tapes lead to a much wider mystery tying Melody and Dan together.
In the beginning, it was a bit hard to follow as the story was setting up. Also, I did not buy into the idea that what we really see and what is recorded does not exactly compliment each other. In addition to this, the flashbacks within flashbacks can become somewhat messy at times.
Archive 81 is still an interesting, ambitious story where it’s at its best when the characters are taking the information that they have accumulated and are putting things together. This, of course, goes hand in hand with the action that moves the plot along when they make those important connections between the timelines. Also, when there is filler the pacing of the story drags.
The story sets up a lot of things with some better achieved payoffs than others. Of course there are many twists and turns that happen in the plot. Questions are always raised. Some do get answered and some do not (at least yet).
It is still very cool to see that a podcast was made into a Netflix original series and hopefully the success leads to more horror media adaptations. Overall, Archive 81 has an interesting story set up with engaging mysteries and commits to the story it wants to tell as an adaptation of an original property. Although it starts slow, it has enough twists to stay engaging. Archive 81 is available for streaming on Netflix.
Archive 81 (2022) Official Netflix Trailer