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This eerie psychological thriller follows Dan, a video archivist who accepts a job to restore videotape footage recovered from a horrific apartment fire in 1994. While he reconstructs the tapes, Dan discovers the work of grad student Melody Pendras, who was investigating the mysterious Visser Apartments. As the story unfolds through two timelines (1994 and present day), Dan becomes obsessed with what happened to Melody and, to his astonishment, how he is connected to her.
Rebecca Sonnenshine (The Boys, The Vampire Diaries) is the showrunner and executive producer. Also on board as producers are James Wan and Michael Clear of Atomic Monster (Conjuring Universe, Malignant). Rebecca Thomas (Stranger Things) directed and produced. Mamoudou Athie (Uncorked, Black Box) stars as Dan.
Not only is the series inspired by an actual horror podcast—also titled Archive 81—but it was inspired by horror and sci-fi classics such as The Shining, The X-Files, Rosemary’s Baby, The Blair Witch Project, and The Fringe. If you have seen any of these iconic shows or movies, you will spot some cool hidden easter eggs.
Mamoudou Athie, who was amazing in Black Box, brings the same compelling energy to Archive 81 as Dan. Dina Shihabi is just as impressive as Melody. These characters live parallel lives to each other (both having a history of mental breakdowns), which at times makes the audience question whether the apparitions and dreams are related to their mental breakdowns or if there is something supernatural happening here.
To get closer to her subjects, Melody moves into the Visser building and sets out to interview its mysterious tenants. Her first contact is 14-year old Jess (Ariana Neal), who serves as Melody’s guide throughout the building and seems to be the only relatively “normal” tenant living there. Jess is also the building’s concierge, performing jobs for her neighbors like retrieving groceries and packages. In the videotaped interviews each character gives off weird vibes and a sense of hidden intentions, keeping the audience guessing their true agendas until the grand finale.
The series cuts back and forth between the recovered archival footage from Melody’s documentary that Dan is watching and the past from Melody’s point of view. The found-footage sections help to add some creative authenticity to the episodes. Another uniquely interesting part of the series is the episode introductions. Each opens with some junk media that’s not only entertaining but provides hints as to what the audience can expect from the upcoming episode. For instance, at the start of episode five, we see a shot of Eyewitness News reporting about a man killed by a subway train. This random news segment is a peek at the upcoming fatality of one of the characters.
By the end of the series, Dan’s employer’s intentions are discovered, along with the events leading to the fire that killed the Visser tenants. This puts Dan on a mission to find more answers and reinforces his growing belief that he can save Melody from a terrible fate.
Archive 81 is a binge-worthy, well-paced horror/sci-fi series that will keep viewers intrigued and filled with anticipation during each of its eight gripping episodes. It’s edge-of-your seat good!
Fellow fans of Stranger Things, The Conjuring series, or any form of horror!
The series has an open ending, providing the possibility of either a season two or just leaving the viewer on a serious mind-bender.