Archive 81 is a new Netflix series that might have gone under the radar had it failed to grip fan attention like it has. Popular new releases might have overshadowed it, but Archive 81 has staked a claim as one of Netflix’s most popular shows of January 2022. 

The series’ trailer made Archive 81 seem pretty scary. Additionally, the presence of legendary horror director James Wan as one of the producers gave fans the idea that Archive 81 would take us through one hell of a scary ride. Now that the show’s eight episodes are out, let’s find out if Archive 81 is scary. 

Archive 81 is a tense watch, but it isn’t scary

Archive 81 is loosely based on a horror podcast with the same name. It follows film archivist Dan Turner, who businessman Virgil Davenport recruits to restore fire-damaged tapes, which Melody Pendras created in 1994. 

Virgil, who seems to have a hidden agenda, offers Dan $100,000 as payment. However, due to the fragility of the tapes, Dan has to work in an isolated compound with no wifi and poor mobile reception. 

In 1994, Melody Pendras interviewed the residents of a New York apartment building. The oral history project soon turned eerie as Melody started to suspect and investigate cult activity at the Visser Apartment. 

The series tells its story through Melody’s lens, making it a ‘found footage’ production. Dan follows her quest for answers as he tries to make his own conclusions. His entire family died in a fire in 1994, the same fire that consumed the Visser building. 

Maybe Melody’s tapes contain some answers. What was meant to be a handsome payday now becomes personal for Dan, making you wonder whether Virgil Davenport really chose Dan at random. 

The film tries to build terror by exploiting familiar tropes. Jump scares, corridor stalking, (possible) hallucinations, unexplained sounds at night, cultish themes, and fearful smiles and veiled warnings from the inhabitants of the building exist in the film to build dread. 

However, the tense storyline eclipses any fear you might have. The mystery in Archive 81 supersedes the horror: you’ll be more invested in figuring out the narrative than focusing on the scares. 

Actor Matt McGorry plays Dan’s best friend, Mark Higgens, in Archive 81. He told Distractify that he joined the series believing it to be a psychological thriller before finding out that it had more layers. He said:

“What I really appreciate is it’s not really dependent on like, things jumping out and scaring you. It’s very far in the other direction. There is always this like ominous kind of nature, and, I mean, when watching it [had me] a bit on the edge of my seat. But it kind of maintains the tension in a really interesting way.”

The narrative can sometimes feel somewhat convoluted, but there’s just reward for your patience. Unlike other shows that build tension only to have a silly conclusion, Archive 81 builds to a satisfactory conclusion that the showrunners can build on for a possible season 2.