Over the past few years, Netflix has really expanded the genre library, bringing us both great horror films and series. One of their latest offerings is the James Wan-produced series “Archive 81”. If you are wondering if it’s worth the watch, we will answer that in this review.
Mamoudou Athie stars as Dan, a quiet and slightly odd man, burdened by the death of his entire family when he was just a child. He is hired by the mysterious Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan) to restore the tapes made by Melody (Dina Shihabi) at Virgil’s remote compound, which contains many secrets. As he watches the videos he discovers that the tapes chronicle her investigation of a cult that resides in the Visser apartment building in 1994. With every tape that he restores, he becomes more infatuated with Melody and is determined to find a way to rescue her from the other world connected to the cult, while also seeking answers of his father was connected to it all.
Athie does a fantastic job of playing a traumatized character who becomes obsessed. The character is somehow both offputting and distant, but still endearing in some ways. At the same time, he’s easy to empathize with. He is clearly struggling with life and when he sees the tapes things get even more complicated for him, leaving you wondering if he’s actually losing his mind.
As for Shihabi’s Melody. You can’t help but feel for her. Not only is she dealing with this terrifying cult, but she’s also desperately searching for her biological mother who she believes once lived in the building. Shihabi emotes so much emotion, with the dominant one being fear. She makes it all feel real. Her character is kind and loving and that makes you really want to cheer for her to escape the terrifying events she is experiencing.
The entire cast did a fantastic job. The characters, which are all on some level strange, and adds complexity and a sense of realism to this dark, unnerving series. The building itself is almost a character itself, as the series’ darkness intensifies, it seems to change, to age, and frames the dark events of the show.
The majority of the special effects are featured in Melody’s tapes, making them look like they really were recorded years ago on cheap camcorders. The demon/god/whatever it is looks incredible and it’s frightening. It reminds me of what a child born from the Predator and the Alien would look like. While we only get a really good look at it in the finale, the shadows and outlines of it that we see in the last few episodes are enough to spook you. But, the building’s residents are the true monsters. Their ruthless silencing of people and the fact that they are okay with sacrificing people really make them disturbing.
From the first scene to the last, “Archive 81” gives off an uneasy vibe, and the paranoia Dan and Melody experience begins to rub off on you by the end of it, making you want to look over your shoulder. It’s tense and dark and fantastic. It’s a fresh story that we haven’t seen before (that’s saying a lot) and is a great twist on the cult subgenre. It’s entertaining as hell and will leave you fighting the urge to binge-watch it. But, I guess that’s what we’ve come to expect when we hear that James Wan is involved (produced).
“Archive 81” is now available on Netflix. I strongly recommend that you check it out. There’s no question in my mind, i’s one of the best new series on the streaming giant and has already earned a spot on our “Top 10” list that will be released this December. I truly hope that we get a second season!
Here’s a look back at the “Top 2021” list that features several Netflix horror series.