Archive 81 (Season 1, 2022)
Creator: Rebecca Sonnenshine
Cast: Mamoudou Athie, Dina Shihabi, Evan Jonigkeit, Julia Chan, Ariana Neal, Matt McGorry, Martin Donovan, Kate Eastman, Charlie Hudson III, Kristin Griffith, Eden Marryshow, Georgina Haig
An archivist hired to restore a collection of tapes finds himself reconstructing the work of a filmmaker and her investigation into a dangerous cult. – IMDB
Based on the podcast of the same name, Archive 81 follows an archivist Dan (Mamoudou Athie) hired to a secluded building to restore a collection of tapes left behind by a college filmmaker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) who moves into the Visser building hoping to capture the lives of the residents but also look for her biological mother but ends up realizing that that the building’s history is a lot more sinister and starts to investigate leading her to discover a cult.
Due to the nature of the show which dives from the present day with Dan and the past via the tape restoration and his process of watching it, the film story unfolds on a parallel. The writing is what truly shines in this series as it crafts both sides very effectively both in terms of the primary mystery element but also having the ability to craft a tense and sinister vibe throughout as it captures the isolation of Dan as he discovers his own side of the mystery as odd occurrences take place and the help of his friend (Matt McGorry) as an outside resource. Much like Melody Pendras who starts to gradually feel more and more of the cult that surrounds her through the strange residents that live there. The sense of danger and insecurity within the building is constructed incredibly well. The use of the VHS grainy element reminding that it is still an image that is being watched does a good job of pulling in and out of this parallel worlds of the past and present especially when it feels like its just watching two sides of a story and forgetting the time element.
While there aren’t any big name actors in the cast, probably the most familiar being Matt McGorry for his role in Orange is the New Black way back in Season 1 (I think) and he has gone on to do some other roles over the years, the main cast revolves around Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi playing as Dan and Melody respectively. They both do a pretty decent job for what their role needs to deliver. Perhaps the supporting characters and their odd personalities delivers more although some of it does go a little overboard at times. Luckily, the show does only focus on a few main characters of the Visser building while Dan’s side focuses mostly around a few characters as well. The events craft a lot more of the atmosphere than the characters involved since the sounds and eerie and bizarre situations and the fear of being caught is what brings out most of the effective tense atmosphere. The characters’ interactions and encounters do bring up a lot of mystery and questions that slowly get revealed in the final episodes.
Overall, Archive 81 is pretty good. Its gripping and tense and the mystery is done really well. The angle and the twist also works pretty effectively. The tone and sound design and setting all add to the mystery much like the characters themselves. Unfortunately, the show does end on something of a cliffhanger and wasn’t renewed for a second season. A pity really since it would be interesting to see where it would have headed if it had the opportunity.