Netflix’s ‘Archive 81’ Is the First Binge-Worthy Horror Series of 2022 squib

Quantrell D. Colbert / Netflix

In Archive 81, cinema is a figurative and literal gateway to other worlds. The notion that the movies are a transportive portal is nothing particularly new—especially in the horror genre—but showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine and executive producer James Wan’s eight-part Netflix series (based on Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger’s podcast of the same name) nonetheless finds new ways to enliven its underlying idea, along the way paying tribute to the many chilling ancestors that paved the way for its malevolent tale about a young man tasked with restoring video tapes about a calamity that befell a community decades earlier. Taking a kitchen-sink approach to scary storytelling, it cleverly and entertainingly resurrects, and reinvents, that which came before it.

Following in the footsteps of John Carpenter’s Masters of Horror anthology entry Cigarette Burns, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, Joel Schumacher’s 8mm, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio—as well as The Blair Witch Project and its legion of found-footage progeny (notably, the V/H/S franchise)—Archive 81 (Jan. 14) charts the ordeal of Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), an employee at Queens, New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, where he’s renowned for restoring and digitizing damaged old movies. With patient and meticulous care, he untangles, cleans and respools ravaged celluloid and VHS material, bringing long-moribund relics back to life. In light of his expertise, Dan is contacted by Virgil Davenport (Martin Donovan), who runs a mysterious firm known as LMG, about a private job: relocate to a remote Catskills research facility and repair a collection of camcorder tapes that were shot by Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), who in 1994 was making a documentary film about Manhattan’s Visser apartment building when the place went up in flames.

Dan, whose best friend Mark (Matt McGorry) is the host of a spooky podcast dubbed Mystery Signals, accepts this offer, and promptly sets up shop in Davenport’s eerie concrete-walled facility, immersing himself in Melody’s recordings. Thus Archive 81 establishes its found-footage set-up, with Dan functioning as both a viewer and the spiritual collaborator of Melody, whose non-fiction work he’s helping to complete.

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