Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 3/5
Archive 81 is one of those shows that’s both very good and very bad. Oftentimes at the exact same time. That makes reviewing this – much like Midnight Mass in a way – a very different experience depending on what you’re after. Much like the tapes this show works with, Archive 81 feels like a cassette of old horror tropes, stitched together with a modicum of self-awareness.
The ensuing result is a show that’s not great for a binge (1 or 2 episodes a night is more than enough. I struggled watching 8 in a row!) but also intriguing enough to keep you watching until the end to see how this one ends.
This patchwork of different influences checks off all the usual horror tropes along the way; secluded compound with spotty cell reception? Check; satanic rituals? You betcha; What about a weird cult where everyone’s involved? That’s here too.
All of this is then thrown together and wrapped around a dual timeline story that plays out as part found-footage flick and part puzzle box thriller. Although thriller may be a bit of a stretch. This is one long-winded show and while the episodes themselves are enticing and feature some pretty good, stand-out moments, the pace is dreadfully slow at times.
This story could so easily have been told in 5 chapters, with a lot of the fat cut out of this one for a more streamlined experience. The opening episode, for example, takes around 40 minutes before it even begins to settle into a consistent rhythm.
Given how many incredible shows there are to watch, that’s bad news for Archive 81 as it tries to carve itself a slice of this lucrative small-screen pie.
The plot itself is undeniably gripping though and revolves around a guy called Dan. He’s an archivist and one day, takes a job restoring a collecting of damaged videotapes from 1994 for a man named Virgil Davenport.
These tapes happen to relate to a woman called Melody, who was in the midst of investigating a dangerous cult within a strange apartment complex. As Dan begins to get drawn into Melody’s story, we learn what happened to this young woman – and how Dan and Melody’s fate appear to be inexplicably entwined.
I won’t reveal more than that but suffice to say most of this show centers on uncovering the past and what happened to Melody. There are undeniably creepy moments here, typified by the cult goings on in the past and Dan exploring the house he’s stuck in.
Beyond that though, most of the story is unveiled without much aplomb. There aren’t really any jump scares, barely any notable moments of horror and the puzzle box – while intriguing – doesn’t have that same drive and intrigue something like Servant or Castle Rock had in abundance to keep you watching.
The problem with Archive 81 though – and something it never really shakes through its 8 episodes – is that feeling of Deja vu that clings to every part of this production. We’ve seen satanic rituals before. We’ve experienced the found footage craze with Paranormal Activity, and we’ve even seen this exact same storyline last year on Netflix through Danish series Equinox.
The result of this familiarity is a show that manages to keep you watching until the end, adds some undeniably enjoyable moments… but not much else. This will definitely hold your attention until the final credits but you certainly won’t be desperate for a second season.
Archive 81 is unlikely to be a show you’ll remember for long into 2022 but that’s not for the want of trying. It’s not a bad series, but it’s not a particularly great one either, existing in that realm of “good enough”. But is that really a “good enough” recommendation to dedicate 8 hours of your life to this? I have my doubts.
Verdict - 6.5/10