Since he “Saw‘ and later the ‘Conjuring‘ franchise, James Wan is one of the most important names in the horror genre. With his studio Atomic Monster Productions the director now also produces series, most recently I Know What You Did Last Summer for Amazon Prime Video. The Netflix eight-episode Archive 81 is now Wan’s next work, which he entrusted to Rebecca Sonnenshine (The Boys, The Vampire Diaries) to write and Rebecca Thomas (Stranger Things) to direct (the idea was based on a podcast of the same name).
With the one-hour episode Mystery Signals, the two ladies made a promising start to the mystery format. If you have weak nerves, you probably won’t get very far – but if you stick with it, you’ll quickly get sucked into the tension. A big reason Archive 81 works so well also goes back to the series’ two leads: Mamoudou Athie (The Get Down, Sorry for Your Loss) and Dina Shihabi (Altered Carbon, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan). The story itself, meanwhile, isn’t particularly innovative…
What’s the matter?
At the center of events is the New York archivist Dan Turner (Athie), who one day gets the job of restoring a collection of damaged video cassettes. Since the material is to be kept strictly confidential, Dan has to withdraw to his work in a secluded bunker outside of town. Through the old tapes, he soon meets Melody Pendras (Shihabi), who recorded in 1994. As a documentary filmmaker, she wanted to capture the peculiar history of her apartment building by interviewing her neighbors. But again and again strange phenomena occur that play with her psyche in a drastic way.
Dan can only watch helplessly from the present at the madness that took place in the so-called Visser Complex. But soon Melody’s fate intersects with his own past, forcing him to wonder if his mysterious employers might not have chosen him at random. Has Dan fallen into a trap? Not a very nice suspicion – especially not when you’re stuck in a remote place in a house with surveillance in every corner and no cell phone signal. His only ally is now a rat he captured.