There’s something about recording cherished memories that many people enjoy. Whether that be on their phone or an old camera from the 80’s or 90’s, a video is visual reminder of all the cherished memories that are recorded in the moment. But not everything should be recorded and the past should remain in the past. Archive 81 is the perfect example of how some memories are better left forgotten and how meddling with the past can open a door in the future.
Loosely based on a podcast of the same name (which I didn’t realize until a good friend of mine pointed it out), Archive 81 is about a young man named Dan Turner who works as a archivist. He’s hired by a CEO of a company called LMG to work in a remote location to restore tapes with undisclosed content. Things seem normal at first, the tapes belonging to a woman named Melody Pendras. The tapes are from the year 1994 and are centered around Melody as she does a university assignment on the Visser apartment building. As Dan continues to restore her footage, things get weirder and weirder and he soon begins to question if he truly is losing his mind or if what he is seeing is actually real.
This show had me in a proverbial chokehold the entire time. Every episode kept me on the edge of my seat and it was very difficult not to binge it all in one go. The writing, the music, the feeling of uneasiness. All were portrayed extremely well on screen. The acting was on point especially for the character of Cassandra Wall. Kristin Griffith was the one that stole the show for me. She made me so uncomfortable but she was brilliant. Any performer who has the ability to make me uneasy like that deserves all the awards. Another thing that Archive 81 did successfully and intrigued me the most was the use of wide camera angles. As uneasy as every single one of these angles made me, they were so compelling because it felt like forced perspective; a character could be near the right of the screen sitting at a table and in the background to the left, there could be a closet door that was partially opened. So to me it felt like something was going to happen with that door and I watched it to see if something would come out of it. There were a lot of camera angles like these throughout the entirety of the season and not a single one of them got past me. Eyes glued to the background, I made sure I didn’t miss anything in that moment.
As I stated earlier, Archive 81 is loosely based on a podcast of the same name. Turns out that I actually listened to it back in 2018 or 19 but just completely forgot about it. So listening to it again (as of right now I’m on episode 6), there were a couple of noticeable differences between podcast and Netflix adaptation. For starters, Dan’s name is different. In the podcast his name is Dan Powell. Melody is still herself but instead of cassette tapes that Dan works with it’s videotapes instead which overall works well with a visual adaptation of a podcast. Jess isn’t a 14 year old girl in the podcast. He’s a 17 year old young man that the people of the apartment complex claim they don’t know or remember. And funnily enough, Dan’s best friend in the show is named Mark and has his own podcast called “Mystery Signals”. In the actual Archive 81 podcast itself, Mark is the one telling the story about Dan and sharing Dan’s recordings about his work. This tidbit alone is so cool as I had suspected that the show would end with Mark creating a podcast called Archive 81 (as for how it really ended, you’ll have to see for yourself). Because Netflix replaced the concept of cassettes with video tapes, it allowed for a deeper connection and look into the characters that the podcast didn’t necessarily have (at least not a deeper look into Dan’s personal life anyway). I’m sure there are plenty more differences but since I’m only on episode six of the podcast, there isn’t much more to tell you about it. But so far the podcast is just as creepy as the show.
The technical aspect of the show was also interesting to watch. Dan’s job requires a lot of hands on work and skill to restore old tapes such as VHS, cassettes and film reels. Whether the show had advice from a real life film preservationist, it’s unsure, but to watch the processes that Dan used to clean the tapes and restore them back to their original condition was fascinating. It’s incredible how far recording technology has come and this is actually depicted on the show as well. Regardless if it’s the early 1900’s, 1994 or 2021, people want to be able to look back at the past and hold onto those memories for as long as they can.
Because analog horror is becoming a popular sub genre, the intros to each episode reminds me of videos similar to Mandela Catalogue and others like its kind on YouTube. Short clips that look like ads, instructional videos or found footage, analog horror relies mainly on audio as well as visuals to create a creepy environment to the viewer which is exactly what the beginning of each episode does. It sets the tone as well as give you an idea of what the episode will be about. I love analog horror and the way it was applied in the show was the cherry on top.
Before I wrap this up, there is one more thing I want to point out and praise which is the sound design. Not just the clicking of tapes wise or the nostalgic sound of the rewinding of a VHS, but also for the huffing sound the tenants make. Without going into much detail about it, the noise made me want to scream. Not only did the huffing and humming make me agitated but the end credits song is also unsettling to listen to. I’m no musical expert, but certain notes tickled a part of my mind that I didn’t know was possible. Maybe it was intentional and was meant to create uneasiness in the viewer. It was successful as it felt like something I shouldn’t even be listening to and that I had to skip the end credits entirely.
Archive 81 is a spellbinding story of horror and conspiracy with a drop of mystery. Every episode will keep you on your toes and leave you wanting more. It’s a feast for the eyes that you don’t want to miss.
You can stream the first season of Archive 81 now on Netflix.