Netflix’s ‘Archive 81’ delivers a unique and chilling horror experience

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As winter break winds down and classes start up again, students may be looking for a new show to dive into. While it might not be the most anxiety-reducing, Netflix’s new thriller series, “Archive 81,” is sure to keep you watching with bated breath. Maybe watch this one with a friend, and keep the lights on, since this story is guaranteed to be an unnerving one.  

“Archive 81,” released on Jan. 14, was created by Rebecca Sonnenshine and directed by Sonnenshine in collaboration with James Wan and Paul Harris Boardman. It is based on a podcast of the same name, which is currently in its third season. It was created by Dan Powell and Marc Sollinger, who run Dead Signals podcasts.  

The show follows the story of museum archivist Dan Turner (played by Mamoudou Athie), who takes a job restoring videotapes for a private client. The tapes in question feature the interviews and experiences of Melody Pendras (played by Dina Shihabi), a historian working on her dissertation. She is investigating the secrets of the Visser apartments in 1994, preceding a fire that destroys the complex.  

“Archive 81” is split into two timelines: one follows Dan working in isolation on his video restoration project, and the other follows Melody as she compiles interviews for her oral history of the building she has just moved into. Despite the almost three decades separating these characters, they are connected through the remnants of Melody’s interviews. 

Neither Dan nor Melody’s projects are what they expected, and they both experience seemingly supernatural phenomena that leave them wondering what they got caught up in. As they dive deeper into their work, they are met with dozens of questions and few answers, and the connections between them grow deeper in ways they never would have anticipated.   

“Archive 81” combines found-footage and traditional filming to build a layered story dripping with suspense. Melody’s interviews are wrought with static and shadows, leaving viewers wondering what lurks beyond her lens. On the other hand, scenes set in Dan’s time leave little to the imagination. Subtle movements and shadows in the background hint that he is not as alone as he thinks.  

The horror within the show is based primarily on this suspense, with few jump scares and limited shock-based fear. Rather than being a fast-paced thriller, “Archive 81” is more of a slow-burn show that develops layers of tension.  

In addition to a compelling narrative and filming, “Archive 81” features excellent sound design that enhances the suspense throughout each episode. Chilling piano music, creepy chanting and persistent droning background noise all work together to raise the hairs on the back of the viewer’s neck. Auditory horror is a key component of the show, which is reminiscent of its podcast roots.  

Overall, the combination of writing, effects and acting creates a dramatic and haunting story, and it seems like it is just getting started. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, and the finale is no exception. Viewers are hoping for a second season, but it has not yet been confirmed. Those interested in unraveling the mysteries of “Archive 81” can watch it on Netflix or listen to the podcast on most podcast apps.  

Rating: 5/5 

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