Episode 1 of Archive 81 begins with a guy called Dan arriving at work. His job includes restoring old film reels for a museum. Dan is quite the film buff too, and has a lot of knowledge around these old black and white pictures.
It doesn’t take long before he receives a message from his boss. She wants him to restore a battered tape by the following day. Dan doesn’t break a sweat in fixing this, checking the tape and noticing it’s a video involving a woman named Melody.
This is the same girl we saw brief snippets of right at the start of this episode. Doing some research, it appears the entire apartment complex she was shooting in went up in flames. But how? And why?
Regardless, Dan is invited over to see Virgil Davenport in the morning, the client who originally asked him to fix the tape. He wants to offer Dan a job working at LMG.
The firm is pretty cryptic but they want him to help restore the contents of a bunch of tapes. The one he restored that night was part of a larger collection. Only, Dan would need to do his work at a remote research facility where they’re currently being stored.
The reward is a cool 100k and as Virgil talks, he touches on Dan’s tragic backstory. This includes his family dying in a fire. It’s clear Dan has a personal connection to all of this.
When he arrives, there’s a real Shining quality to this house, with the place rundown, cold and inhospitable. There’s spotty cell service, no internet and (so far at least) no twins in the hallway.
After Virgil drops off Dan, he hands over a wristband and urges him to contact if he has a panic attack. “Good luck, we’ll be in touch!” He calls before driving off and leaving Dan alone. Guess there’s no chance of him getting a takeaway delivered here either.
As Dan sets to work, we cut back and see more of Melody’s life. It turns out she was actually doing a history project on the Visser Apartment. The only advice she’s given is from the janitor, who tells her to stay away from the sixth floor. And it seems the other residents here are less than welcoming too.
No one answers the door to their new neighbour, but Melody does meet a girl called Jess in the hallway. She apparently works in the building to bring different residents what they need. Offering to pay her, Melody is able to get a foot in the door.
Melody meets a woman named Tamara Stefano who happens to be a musician, composing music. She plays a composition she’s created, pointing out this is a symphony of “human suffering”. The singing seems to trigger Melody though, leading her to keel over on the floor.
Melody’s interest in this building stems from its history, which includes the apartment building prior to the Visser burning down. She wants to know exactly what pulls people to this area, and why the residents have moved in.
“Did Samuel tell you about this place?” She quizzes, as Melody looks at her dumbfounded. Jess then inexplicably appears to be possessed and drops to the floor, having a fit.
The thing is, the tape starts distorting as this occurs. But what’s in the static is far more disturbing for Dan. A strange figure that looks like an alien leans forward and almost seems to come out the TV.
Dan does eventually compose himself and with his new rat friend (whom he freed from a mouse trap earlier in the episode) he restores more of the tape.
It seems Jess suffers from seizures but her doctor doesn’t see anything wrong with her. Jess’s mum wants her to see a priest. It seems like Jess actually saw something before her seizure but won’t reveal what to Melody.
Even more alarming however, is the snippet of tape we see next, which includes Melody learning that Jess has gone and believing it could be the work of the residents. She turns the camera on herself, asking to come and find her.
A man arrives on-screen, which appears to be Dan’s father. Dan is shocked when he watches this, wondering just what thee connection to all of this is. As the camera pans out, we see Virgil is also watching Dan, with cameras set up all over the house.
The Episode Review
Despite a slow and rather cliched start, it appears Archive 81 is just starting to get interesting now, at least based on that ending anyway. The whole “spooky isolated house in the middle of nowhere by yourself” has been overdone in horror and it’s almost enough to put some people off sticking with this one.
However, it’s commendable that Archive 81 is at least self-aware enough to call it out, especially if that nod toward The Shining later in the episode is anything to go by.
Thee mystery woven through this show is certainly interesting though, as are the different characters in this show. The back and forth shots of Dan and Melody, understanding what happened to the latter while journeying with the former, is a nice way to flesh out this story and there are definitely a few unnerving sequences late on in this story.
Whether this can actually pick up the pace and deliver a story more than the usual cookie cutter horror/mystery fare though, remains to be seen.