If you’re in the mood for an absorbing puzzle box, filled with tarot cards, séances, exorcisms and cults, Netflix’s Archive 81 should be on your radar.
The series unfurls a wild mystery that slowly but surely sucks you in. It’s just that — and don’t let this frighten you off — you’ll have to sit through a few slightly less gripping episodes first.
Archive 81 is based on a horror podcast of the same name and stars Mamoudou Athie (also see him in the underrated sci-fi movie Black Box) and Dina Shihabi in the lead roles. The show hit Netflix in January, around when Netflix premiered the final episodes of Ozark. Unsurprisingly, Archive 81 got far less attention than the conclusion to the hit crime-drama.
The opening of Archive 81 is suitably haunting. Grainy footage shows a woman pleading “please find me, please help.” She then seems to scream as someone grabs her.
From that chilling opening, we jump to the perspective of media archivist Dan (Athie). Dan is hired by a mysterious, wealthy man to restore damaged video tapes recovered from a fire at a New York apartment complex in the ’90s. Dan is skilled and curious. We soon learn he sadly lost his family at a young age.
By the end of the first episode, I was both freaked out and baffled. Something terrible has clearly happened to grad student Melody (Shihabi), the young woman we saw in the intro who recorded the tapes. The man who offered Dan the archiving gig is watching Dan’s every move on hidden cameras. Oh, and Dan caught a glimpse of his dad in the footage. What?
Over the course of the series, the creepiness from that opening scene persists. As Dan and Melody find themselves in increasingly uncomfortable situations in their different timelines, we discover why they’re compelled to see things through to the end.
Another highlight of the show is Melody’s quirky roommate Anabelle, played by Julia Chan. Melody’s optimistic, motivated nature is at odds with the unwelcoming Visser Building, home to paranormal-obsessed residents and evil-looking statues. The questions pile up: Why are the residents of the Visser acting so strangely? Will Melody find what she’s searching for? Why is Dan talking to a rat? (That last question is never really answered.)
At times, I felt creeped out and lost in Archive 81’s early episodes, but after the halfway point, that changed. Completely. Archive 81 delivers a satisfying mystery that leaves you fully invested in its world. That’s why Netflix made a mistake in canceling the show after one season. Thankfully, while we’re left with one unresolved cliffhanger, the rest of the show answers every question I had.
If you’re looking for the perfect spooky show, Archive 81 is a winner. Don’t let it collect dust — commit to a couple of episodes and let the chilling mystery draw you in.