Unexpected success on the platform, Archive 81, is Netflix’s new VHS worth a look? Critical.
On Netflix, there are the series that we look forward to and which benefit from constant promotion, and the more discreet productions that the platform adds a little in the shade to its offer. Archives 81 belongs to this second category of content, having been very little highlighted by the N rouge in its monthly program. However, it has obviously largely imposed itself against the competition, since it proudly sits in the ranking of the most popular productions of the moment. For its first week of operation, it has already accumulated no less than 22 million hours viewed. A deserved success? Critical.
Based on the found-footage principle, Archives 81 narrates the adventures of Dan, an archivist hired by a mysterious company to restore old video cassettes damaged in the early 90s. He then focuses on the work of this documentary filmmaker who has studied the inhabitants of Visser, a new building – seemingly ordinary Yorker. But over the course of his discoveries, he will convince himself that he is capable of saving the latter from the tragic end she experienced when the flames ravaged the building, 25 years earlier.
A new wavelength
The narration of the new Netflix series is adapted from the eponymous podcast by Marc Sollinger and Daniel Powell launched in 2016 on streaming platforms. After three seasons of sound adventures, the universe offers its first foray into images under the direction of Rebecca Sonnenshine. The showrunner who worked on writing season 1 of The Boys, leads the boat here in this series on the border between thriller and horror.
So let’s say it right away, Archives 81 is far from being an innovative production. The series is based on a narrative process that had its heyday in genre cinema, with Paranormal Activity Where The Blair Witch Project to recite nobody else but them. However, the new Netflix production deviates a little from the beaten track, preferring to focus on the inner journey of these characters rather than an unleashing of paranormal and bloodthirsty events. In those first moments, Archives 81 effectively lays the groundwork for the plot that will unfold over 8 episodes. A latent mystery that captivates us quite quickly and stretches until halfway through the first season. If the series sometimes abuses certain hackneyed scriptwriting processes, the quest for its origins for example, it manages to make us forget its few weaknesses as the conclusion approaches.
Unfortunately, she relents in her last episode, failing to build a worthy ending. Hurried, the last chapter does not manage to hang up all the wagons, even if the last minutes seem to announce a return of the series in the coming years. Deus ex machine and nebulous explanations, Archives 81 multiply the odds. What was only suggested until now becomes tangible and the spell is broken. The relatively few digital effects are at best outdated, at worst completely missed.
Fortunately, this is not enough to disgust us and we want more. A second season that could allow the series to find a second wind and establish itself as a real nice surprise.
A magnetic tape
The strength ofArchives 81 basically relies on its casting, just moment by moment. If some of the protagonists tend to irritate us, hello Anabelle, the duo at the center of this story shines with their talent. This is particularly the case of Mamadou Athie, who although restrained, proves to be more and more endearing over the episodes. The same goes for Dina Shihabi, who takes the viewer by the hand to explore this strange, gloomy and not really appetizing building.
A low resolution atmosphere
In this kind of production, building the atmosphere is essential. If the first episode seemed to lay a solid foundation for the rest of the trip, it must be admitted that the realization sins in its business. She never manages to go beyond the demonstrative, using and abusing the visual springs of horror. There are many jump scares, but Rebecca Thomas’ camera is unable to free itself from the format to offer something new.
The building, theater of the plot, would have deserved a less summary visual treatment. The complex in which Dan finds himself, for example, is much more anxiety-provoking. The series is also reminiscent Stranger Things, who had also made a parallel world and the austere environment of a scientific complex his business. Here, it’s definitely less brilliant on the production side.
Finally, we will end with the music, signed by the hand of Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. The two composers are doing particularly well, especially when it comes to setting occult rituals to music. A mixture of chaotic breaths and buzzing voices that gives body to the series. Even in its more melodious moments, the duo’s score is almost flawless.
Archives 81 is finally a good surprise on Netflix. The series, with a more modest budget than most of the boxes on the platform, definitely deserves a look, even if its conclusion leaves us a little on the floor. We are nevertheless impatiently awaiting season 2, just to discover what the creators have under the pedal.