Archive 81 premieres January 14 on Netflix.
By Elazar Abrahams
The first episode or two of the new Netflix horror series Archive 81 does not give its viewers a reason to continue. The show is a slow burn, and a complicated one at that, tracking multiple timelines and characters in different decades. But thrill seekers who stick with the eight episodes who be will reward for their patience; Archive 81 eventually builds to an engaging and creative story that provides genuine spooks.
The show is based on the podcast of the same name, and it’s clear that the story worked better in that medium. Our protagonist Dan Turner is a restorationist of old tapes, so essentially, we just watch him watch videos for a long time. At first it isn’t super entertaining, although we do live in a world where millions watch other people play video games. When the pace of the mystery Dan is investigating starts to quicken, the problems with Archive 81’s execution are mostly gone.
This is a horror show, and there are a number of really well crafted jump scares, but the show is much better when it comes to placing the characters in very unsettling situations that get under your skin. For example, while I was definitely jolted by a demon popping out of a computer screen, watching a cult ritual where once seemingly ordinary apartment dwellers join together for a blood sacrifice is the part of the series that is going to keep me up at night.
Archive 81 doesn’t have any huge names to help booster its profile. That’s fine, shows don’t need A-listers to be good, and I like discovering new talent to follow. The problem here is that the cast is not particularly good at selling what is undeniably hammy material. Making audiences care about time travel and the like is not easy, but you can’t help but feel that in the hands of better actors this all would land much better.
In sum, fans of the thriller genre will enjoy Archive 81. With the glut of TV out there right now, casual viewers best choose something else over this binge.
I give Archive 81 a B-.