Archive 81 is an absorbing supernatural thriller in eight episodes on Netflix, ominously moody and full of arresting imagery.
PREMISE: Dan, a specialist in restoring damaged video tapes to a viewable condition, is hired to work on a series of camcorder tapes at a remote facility in the woods. They are raw footage for a research project by a young woman, Melody, in the 1990s, as she interviewed residents of a Manhattan apartment building, the Visser. At some point in the 90s, the Visser burned down, presumably taking Melody with it.
Melody’s tapes show Dan that she had a personal motive, trying to locate her birth mother who lived in the building. She gets no closer to locating her mother but learns other things. The residents, a bunch of Rosemary’s Baby-type arty weirdos, are involved in a cult centering around a statue of an entity named Kalego. A snuff film showing a sacrificial slaughter to Kalego becomes part of the record. Melody tries to protect a teenage girl who seems to be slated to be the next sacrifice.
Meanwhile, Dan becomes aware that he is secretly being monitored while he’s viewing the tapes. In dreams, he starts communicating across the decades with the vanished Melody, who begs him to find her. He’s also shocked to learn that his psychiatrist father, who died in a different fire along with the rest of Dan’s family, treated Melody and was involved in what happened to her.
It’s pretty rich, multi-layered stuff, with charismatic anchoring performances by Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi as Dan and Melody, and solid help from other actors like Martin Donovan. Athie somehow makes compelling a character who mostly stares at video screens, while Shihabi engages our sympathy as she gets further and further entangled in the unholy mystery of the Visser.
The bad news is that Episode Eight ends on a twisty cliffhanger that cries out for continuation, but the show has not been renewed for a second season.
Still more than worth watching in my opinion.