Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: An archivist hired to restore a collection of tapes finds himself reconstructing the work of a filmmaker and her investigation into a dangerous cult.
Review: There are horror/thrillers that you sit back and enjoy and then there are those that require you to sit up and pay very, VERY close attention. Guess which one this is?
Netflix’s Archive 81 is not going to appeal to general audiences who are just looking for some quick and easy thrills. But if you’re a fan of series like the mind-blowing Dark, The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, shows that take their time building up the suspense and asking you to utilise your grey matter, then you will happily go down the rabbit hole that Archive 81 sucks you into.
Based on the podcast of the same name, Mamoudou Athie (Black Box, Underwater) stars as Dan Turner, an archivist who specialises in restoring damaged video reels and tapes. He’s hired by a man named Davenport to restore some tapes that were damaged in a fire, but to do so he has to move to a private compound in a secluded area and everything he does must be kept confidential.
As he painstakingly restores the tapes Dan learns they are actually a film project by a young woman named Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) who had moved into an apartment complex in the 90s where she films the residents for her thesis and sh uncovers they are part of a cult. Things only get stranger from there as time and space seems to have no boundaries and Dan and Melody worlds collide in strange and chilling ways.
To say more would be to spoil a fantastic experience. I’ll just say this—if you’re fan of Dante’s Inferno you’re in for a treat! (That’s also a small clue for those paying attention). The unsettling atmosphere that kicks in from the moment we are introduced to Dan, a man whose melancholy is almost tangible, to his meeting with Davenport where (if you’re anything like me) you’re shaking your head back and forth as if you can stop Dan from taking the job.
As the episodes unfold the tension is almost stifling and yes, I know this is a slow burn. A VERY slow burn. But the series does reward you for sticking with it as every episode another layer is peeled back. And even as you know none of this can lead anywhere good, you can’t help but want to see what comes next.
We would all like to believe we can sense danger enough to run away from it but the reality is human nature is to be inquisitive. To want to know what’s in the box. And in reality I could see a lot of us ending up just like Melody and Dan because the need to know the answer is more overwhelming than anything else.
Mamoudou Athie was the best part of Black Box and here he shines once more in this leading role. With eyes capable of so much expression and a voice that feels bigger than his body, Athie’s portrayal of Dan perfectly balances with that of Shihhabi’s Melody which makes their journey “together” and their relationship of sorts quite believable.
Other standouts were Martin Donovan as Virgil Davenport, Matt McGorry as Mark, Dan’s best friend, and young Ariana Neal as Jess. The tenants of the Visser Apartments and the actors who portrayed them are also to be commended as their performances brought to mind all those classic cult based films of the 60s and 70s. How well do we really know our neighbours, anyways? There’s a sense of distrust that pervades everything and the paranoia builds to the point where viewers may find themselves not trusting any one of these characters they meet.
I don’t want to go any further because things will get spoiler-y so I’ll just finish by saying Archive 81 is the kind of horror series that will leave fans talking for days, if not weeks. The kind of series you’ll love to dissect over and over again to see if you got it right. It’s not going to be for everyone and even fans of this type of story may find themselves pulling away as the the pacing is not for the faint of heart. But the atmosphere is pitch perfect for this type of story and the tension does build up tremendously while episodes drop some genuinely chilling moments here and there until you get to that ending that will leave you scrambling for the comment section or, at the very least, wondering when the next season is going to drop.
If you’re a fan of subtle horror and enjoy a good cult-based classic, then Archive 81 is worth pressing PLAY.
Sommer’s Score: 7 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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