GORE IN THE STORE
ARCHIVE 81 ****
Starring Mamoudo Athie, Dina Shihabi, Evan Jonigkeit, Martin Donovan
Horror, US, 8 episodes.
Streaming on Netflix from 14th January.
Netflix further expands its impressive horror catalogue of original series with this drama based on the podcast of the same name. Described as “a found footage horror podcast about ritual, stories and sound” this screen adaptation makes a few tweaks to its story, mainly audio tapes being swapped over for video tapes, to tell its tale of Dan Turner, a video archivist stumbling upon a vast supernatural mystery that is somehow entwined with his own tragic past.
Kicking off in the present day we meet Dan as he is hired by Virgil Davenport, the millionaire head of a mysterious company. Dan is tasked with restoring a set of fire damaged videotapes. What should be a straightforward job is complicated by the fact that it can only be completed at Davenports remote complex in the countryside. Further adding to the jobs already disquieting air is Virgil’s knowledge of Dan’s tragic and mysterious family history. The tapes, filmed in 1994 by a film student named Melody, are a film school project to examine the history of the Visser, a New York apartment complex, and its varied residents. As Dan restores this seemingly innocuous series of tapes, he soon discovers a mystery within them that brings his employers and his task into sinister focus.
Horror fans may notice a lot of influences at play here. The sinister nature and history of the Visser and its tenants obviously recalls ROSEMARY’S BABY and the use of vintage technology as a gateway for supernatural menace is taken straight from the original Japanese RINGU. Mixed in with this we are also treated to several cosmic horror and weird fiction elements that add up to a cohesive and enormously satisfying product that help it stand apart from its more obvious influences. This visual adaptation also carries hauntology stylings amplifying the fuzzy, spooky, and eerie elements that the decrepit video technology inadvertently communicates at times, even when filming the most of innocuous of things.
The producer credit of James Wan may draw an audience in but the presence of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead pulling directing duties on a couple of episodes offer further proof of the talent here that help make Article 81 as fresh and compelling at it is. The music score by Ben Sailsbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow helps contribute to the singular atmosphere and brings the time hopping structure together in a cohesive whole.
Over the course of eight episodes there is a hefty dollop of plot and mystery, that piles up more and more until the final episode. However, viewers should be satisfied with its surprising answers and solutions. Within its dense plot involving various occult and interdimensional conspiracies there is an emotional core between Dan and Melody that packs a real wallop by its end, an impressive feat for two characters separated physically by a gulf of nearly thirty years. ARCHIVE 81 is smart serialised, genre storytelling that leaves the viewer wanting more. With a sting in the tail that works both as a full stop to the story or a gateway to, hopefully, another season it feels like one of the freshest and gratifying Netflix entries in quite some time.