‘Archive 81’ Review: New Netflix Horror Series Comes So Close to Nailing It

Netflix’s newest horror seriesArchive 81, drops on Jan. 14. Loosely based on a podcastArchive 81 has hints of Rosemary’s Baby with an evil cult and weird groups gathering in the basement to hum along to even stranger songs, but in the end, the viewer needs a little bit more to feel complete. Is there time travel? Alternate universes? All of these questions at the end leave fans feeling more confused than when they first started.

Melody Pendras, played by Dina Shihabi, looking at the camera in a purple shirt in front of a mirror in a productions till from 'Archive 81.'
‘Archive 81’ – (L to R) Julia Chan as Anabelle Cho, Dina Shihabi as Melody Pendras | Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix

‘Archive 81’ follows an archivist as he tries to unravel a mystery he didn’t know existed

In Archive 81 Dan Turner, played by the excellent Mamoudou Athie, serves as the main protagonist of the series in the role of the archivist. Dan’s hobby involves restoring old VHS cassette tapes, and it’s a hobby at which he’s excellent. Virgil (Martin Donovan), a millionaire with an ulterior motive (aren’t they all?), tracks Dan down and requests his services. Virgil needs several VHS tapes restored that burned in a fire that took down the apartment complex known as The Visser.

The only place Virgil sees fit for the restoration project is a very remote complex in the middle of nowhere. Dan reluctantly agrees and heads off to live a life of complete solitude for the next few weeks. Virgil was very specific about the rules regarding the project, and it meant Dan could have no contact with anyone outside of the complex other than Virgil himself or someone else who works for Virgil’s corporation.

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Cults, sparkly molds, and weird rituals take hold in ‘Archive 81’

As Dan begins to restore the tapes, the second narrative that plays throughout the series unfolds. The videos Dan is restoring belonged to Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), a resident of The Visser in the 1990s. Melody, a sociology student with a penchant for found footage before found footage was even a thing, has a camcorder practically taped to her hand. She’s on a hunt for her birth mother and believes she has a connection to the spooky apartment building.

However, the more Melody begins to uncover – strange tunes humming through her vents, even stranger residents, and an attractive man who is clearly more evil than he appears – the more Dan begins to experience during his time in the complex. Stranger static creatures bulge from the television screens, and a creepy, yet somewhat sparkly, mold starts to grow on the tapes.

'Archive 81' star Mamoudou Athie restoring a VHS cassette tape in a production still from the series
Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner | Cr. Quantrell D. Colbert/Netflix

The series is a perfect example of how something ‘too mysterious’ can be a bad thing

Without giving away any spoilers, Archive 81 takes audiences down one too many rabbit holes. The last couple of episodes become clunky as the story tries to wrap itself up with a bow. The acting from Athie and Shihabi is excellent for what they had to work with, but the visual effects become over-the-top and cheesy at times. 

There are more than enough scares in Archive 81 for people craving something spooky outside of the regularly scheduled Spooky Szn. Although, they certainly aren’t enough to tide you over until October. James Wan’s Archive 81 comes dangerously close to nailing it but unfortunately doesn’t stick the landing. However, the last episode implies there’s a chance for a continuation of Dan and Melody’s story. Hopefully, most viewers will be intrigued enough to tune back in should it get another season.

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