Review: Archive 81, mystery and horror

Dina Shihabi in Archive 81

Archive 81, from Netflix, is a mix of mystery, horror, and sci-fi. It keeps you puzzled and guessing until the end. We visit three different time periods as the story explores the veil between our world and a demonic world of witchcraft.

Mamoudou Athie in Archive 81

Archive 81 begins in contemporary times with an archivist named Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie). He specializes in restoring old video and audio tapes. He’s hired by millionaire Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan) to restore a set of tapes damaged by a 1994 fire in an apartment called Villers.

Using the plot device of watching the old tapes, we get two timelines in one. Dan in the modern one, and Melody (Dina Shihabi) in 1994. Melody went to the Villers to document the community there, a Ph.D. sociology study. Actually she was looking for her birth mother.

Because this is a horror tale, Dan and Melody’s stories quickly become entangled as Dan and his friend Mark (Matt McGorry) puzzle out what happened back then. Dan is sent to work in an isolated compound in the Catskills where he has to climb the highest hill around to call his pal Mark back in the city and ask him to investigate things he sees on the tapes.

The Villers location was previously a mansion owned by the Vos family. That burned down in 1924. And, guess what, there’s also a tape from 1924, a movie called “The Circle.” (There are lots of references to Dante’s “The Inferno” if you like watching for that sort of thing: Virgil, a character named The Ferryman, Charon (spelled Kharon here), the lead Dan T and others.)

Because of the older movie, one of the episodes is set in 1924 with the Vos family. When the Vos mansion burned, the Villers was built. It burned in 1994. The series doesn’t mention what’s in that location in contemporary times, but anyone who lives there should be on the lookout for satanic rituals and mold.

The tapes Dan restores contain interviews from all the apartment residents. Fourteen year old Jess (an excellent Ariana Neal) was a key character, as was the creepy Samuel (Evan Jonigkeit). Melody also recorded herself and her girlfriend Anabelle (Julia Chan) as they lived in the building and investigated the strange mysteries happening there. Each of Melody’s interviews and explorations in the building add plot points and puzzling questions about the various characters.

By the last episode of season 1 you feel like you’re finally figuring out all the mysteries when a huge plot twist is introduced.

Archive 81 is based on a podcast of the same name. It was created for television by Rebecca Sonnenshine. Women directors Rebecca Thomas and Haifaa Al-Mansour headed up 6 of the episodes.

Are you a horror fan? What do you think about this series?

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