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Archive 81 (TV Series Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Series

SUMMARY

An intriguing and often unsettling story of a young film conservationist involved in the archive compiled by a young woman pursuing a PhD degree in an apartment building with many secrets, backstories, and unusual characters.There is an apt blend of horror and sci-fi that makes this a compelling 8-episode watch.

Dan Turner (Mamadou Athie) works as film conservator in a New York museum. Business tycoon Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan) asks him to restore a charred Hi8 tape from the title’s archive that shows grad student Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) talking about her 1994 PhD dissertation involving the Visser apartment building that later burned up, ostensibly killing her and all its other residents. It turns out that the Visser was built on the ruins of the Vos Mansion that was also destroyed in a fire. Pleased with Dan’s work, Davenport offers him $100,000 to repair the remaining partially burnt tapes in a remote compound owned by his corporation. Dan reluctantly accepts and receives an emergency medical bracelet as Virgil is aware of Dan’s history of mental health problems. However, Dan soon discovers that the building has numerous surveillance cameras, as he roams the woods to find a cellular hotspot and contact his best friend Mark Higgins (Matt McGorry) to bring him tools to disable the system and regain his privacy. We find out that Dan’s family died in a house fire when he was a boy and, in a disturbing tape, he sees a combative Melody having a run-in with Dan’s late father, the psychiatrist Steven Turner (Charlie Hudson III).

As more of the tapes are restored, we see Melody meeting other Visser dwellers, including the precocious Jess (Ariana Neal), and art-lover Cassandra Wall (Kristin Griffith) who informs her about a cult in the building and introduces her to artist Annabelle (Julia Chan), Tamara (Kate Eastman), and the medium Beatriz (Sol Miranda). We learn Melody’s real motive for moving to this apartment building as it was the last known address of her birth mother Julia Bennett (Jacqueline Antaramian) who abandoned her as a baby in a Catholic church.

As Dan continues his tape restorations, he sees more of Melody and even has a dream in which she talks to him. He also learns that Davenport had hired a previous tape restorer Thomas Bellows (Jay Klaitz) who went off the deep end and left behind numerous notebooks with codes that might open a secret locked room in the compound.  Mark, an antique film collector and podcaster, shows Dan an old film that has wealthy Iris Vos, (Georgina Haig) the leader of the Baldung Coven, and a group of masked people holding a ritual in a room before a statue of the demonic god Kalaego, during which a young woman gets her throat slit.

Dan begins to lose his grip on reality and has disturbing visions of demons, while he descends into an ever-deepening rabbit hole filled with more cult ceremonies, a possible gateway to the Otherworld, a search for Melody who may not have died in the fire, the whereabouts of Melody’s mother, a flashback to the Vos Mansion, walls in the Visser that are growing psychedelic moss, and Virgil Davenport’s real reason for having him restore Melody’s tapes.

Archive 81 has all the right elements for a dark and disturbing horror-sci-fi series and takes many unexpected twists before a surprising end that I did not see coming. Athie and Shihabi lead a strong cast through a storyline based on a well-received podcast by Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger. Viewers will need to pay close attention as new characters are introduced in nearly every episode and there are frequent time shifts between Melody’s 1994 tapes and the present. Show creator Rebecca Sonnenshine has incorporated fantasy tropes that recall Dante’s Divine Comedy with Kharon, the ferryman of Hades, HBO’s Lovecraft Country, and more recently Lisey’s Story. The result is a highly watchable eight episodes that lend themselves to a seven-hour binge-fest. The interpolation of old films is fascinating and adds to the overall eeriness of this series’ evolution–after all it is about restoring old films. Many horror shows are not as compelling as this one and it gets my high recommendation.

Archive 81 is streaming now on Netflix


  • Show Creator: Rebecca Sonnenshine
  • Original Release Date: 14 January 2022
  • Streaming Service: Netflix
  • Ep. Run Time: 45-58 Mins.
  • Num. Eps.: 8
  • Studios & Distributors: Atomic Monster Productions | Sonnenshine Productions | Netflix
  • Rating Certificate: TV-MA
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An intriguing and often unsettling story of a young film conservationist involved in the archive compiled by a young woman pursuing a PhD degree in an apartment building with many secrets, backstories, and unusual characters.There is an apt blend of horror and sci-fi that makes this a compelling 8-episode watch.Archive 81 (TV Series Review)
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