Archive 81 is a voyeur's fantasy
A series that’s hyper aware we’re watching
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Welcome back to the first Now Streaming of the year. My name’s Joseph Lew, editor of Netflix Pause, and for someone who loves the plot-lines of horror films, it’s unfortunate that I’m absurdly horror-phobic. I watched all the Saw movies with the volume off, I breezed through Haunting Of Hill House on x2 speed because I couldn’t handle the suspense, and the only way I got through Us was because I was too busy laughing at my friend’s fear to think about my own (I’m an empath I know xoxo).
And so, when Archive 81 came up on my radar, as much as I wanted to stay away, I couldn’t. I needed to watch it (and I also needed to have it playing through speakers but only at half volume, and I needed to be holding a pillow, and I needed to be in a well-lit room)...
I saw this TikTok on New Years that said if you record a one-second video every day, by the end of the year you’ll have a three-minute montage movie to show for it. Although I’ve already given up on this – namely because I forgot to keep filming after the third day – I’ve taken it upon myself to document my life in other ways, through film photographs (when I remember to bring my camera), a diary (which I think I’ve already misplaced), and a collection of awkward self-timer photos taken with my $15 Kmart tripod (which can’t even bear the weight of my phone and honestly just gives man-who-is-awkwardly-pretending-to-act-candid-while-his-iphone-slowly-slides-downwards energy rather than the Master of None naturalistic masterpiece I was going for).
Of course, since we’re in the revival era of old technology – Tamagotchis are cool again! Flip-phones are cool again! Wired headphones are cool again! Taking 15 minutes to send a text is cool again! – I’ve also considered digging out my parents’ old camcorder. Of course, my footage would probably resemble something like Bo Burnham: Inside (mostly of me just inside my room), rather than the sinister apartment building, demonic rituals, blood sacrifices, and space-time-bending paranormal phenomena of Archive 81, a new supernatural horror series loosely inspired by the podcast of the same name.
The eight-episode series is centred around archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie) who is tasked by a mysterious organisation with restoring a collection of damaged videotapes from 1994. Only once he begins does he realise that they document an investigation into a dangerous cult by Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), a sociocultural anthropology doctoral candidate, who Turner becomes convinced he can save from a terrifying fate.
Fans of the found-footage genre know that it’s a whole new level of eeriness. There’s something about us watching intimate grainy recordings (or in this case, us watching Dan watching them) that ups the creep factor, our reactions being mirrored by those entrapped within the screen. It all comes down to a level of immersion that’s hard to find elsewhere. It’s easy to cast yourself into The Blair Witch Project, The Visit, or even Paranormal Activity (which I also had to watch without volume because your boy cannot do jump-scares), titles that are so acutely aware of their voyeuristic audience that they bring them into the story itself.
Archive 81 also uses the found-footage genre to play on our fear of the unseen. But it multiplies it – not only do we have to worry about the horrors lurking beyond Melody’s point of view, but we also have to worry about the same with Dan. The series loves an invisible threat and boy, has darkness never been so terrifying.
And while I’ve always said that if I encounter a cult I’d rather just join them like Dani in Midsommar (spoilers here but come on surely you’ve seen this by now) than risk death or becoming a human sacrifice, the real horror of Archive 81 doesn’t lie in its occult-worshipping congregation. After all, even though Archive 81 might have demonic rituals, creepy neighbours, a multi-dimensional demon-slash-god, cabbage-inspired toxic mould, and exorcisms, none of these trump the terror of the shaky camcorder footage and the fear of what lurks beyond the four corners of the screen(s).
Archive 81 is streaming from 7pm AEDT tonight.
Watch these too:
The Haunting of Hill House for another eerie horror series. This reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s novel follows a fractured family who are forced to confront the horrors of their past – and present – after a tragedy brings them back to their former home.
The Visit, if you’re a found-footage fan. Written, co-produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the campy horror film blends thrills and laughs in an enthralling tale about two siblings who spend a week at their grandparents’ farmhouse.
Creep for yet another in the found-footage genre. This film is centred around Aaron, a videographer who answers a stranger’s online advertisement only to realise his client has some unsettling requests.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel if one creepy building wasn’t enough. This true crime mini-series dives into the theories surrounding the disappearance of 21 year-old Elisa Lam in the notorious Cecil Hotel.
The OA for another space-time bending supernatural mystery. The fan-favourite series follows Prairie Johnson, a young woman who mysteriously reappears with new abilities after vanishing from her home seven years ago.
The internet can’t stop talking about:
Wordle, the deceptively simple game that’s captured our collective consciousness. Everyone I know (myself included) is hopelessly obsessed with the word-guessing puzzle, which gives you six chances to guess the word of the day.
Bob Saget who suddenly passed away at the age of 65, Known for playing Danny Tanner in Full House and hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos, the beloved actor had been described widely as ‘America’s Dad’. He will be missed.
The nominations for the 28th annual Screen Actors Guild awards. There were many well deserved nominations, including our very own Kodi Smit-McPhee who was nominated for Outstanding Performance by A Male Actor In A Supporting Role for his smashing performance in The Power Of The Dog.