Mild spoilers below for anyone who hasnâ€™t yet watched Netflixâ€™s new series Archive 81, so be warned!
In recent years, the formerly dominant found-footage sub-genre has been largely absent in horror, save for the occasional Paranormal Activity sequel. As a result, Netflixâ€™s latest original horror series, the podcast adaptation Archive 81, feels all the more refreshing for the ways in which it meshes its various visual formats to create a wholly unnerving and spine-tingling experience. Rather than only giving viewers a single vantage point for this dual-timeline tale, showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine â€”seen speaking with CinemaBlend in the video above â€” broke the mold (no pun intended) and delivered arguably the most immersive found-footage project yet, as well as one of Netflixâ€™s most mind-bending series.Â
Archive 81 stars Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner, a film archivist who gets tasked with restoring a set of videos that were partially destroyed in 1994. In a manner of speaking, the work introduces him to Dina Shihabiâ€™s Melody, whose diligent attempts to document the history of a New York City apartment building uncover a host of weirdness that inevitably puts her in danger. The horror series is as much a mystery as anything, as Danâ€™s discoveries lead him to believe he may be able to save Melody from danger, despite the 25-year difference in the timeline.Â
Though Dan can only witness Melodyâ€™s story specifically through what she and others recorded on the tapes he is restoring, viewers are far more lucky. Rebecca Sonnenshine & Co. laid out the â€˜90s-set storyline through both various found-footage approaches and through a traditional omniscient perspective, which definitely helps to keep viewers transfixed. When CinemaBlend spoke with the showrunner about bringing found-footage back to the forefront of horror in such an immersive way, hereâ€™s how she responded:
For Rebecca Sonnenshine, who has worked as a writer/producer on The Boys and The Vampire Diaries, how the story of Archive 81 was presented to viewers was just as important an element as the narrative itself, with a lifetime of camera-centric interests fueling the various format styles. (Part of the fun of Archive 81 is hoping for new footage to show up.) The showrunner also mentioned how unsettling it is to watch videos from decades ago, especially when it involves a younger version of oneself, and that feeling certainly comes across through Danâ€™s voyeuristic attachment to Melodyâ€™s existence.
Combined with her extended fascination with, and knowledge of, the medium of cameras in general, Sonnenshine also wanted to give Archive 81 something of a visual tapestry through the various recording devices used, making it all the more distinct even beyond the found-footage sub-genre. Here, the showrunner speaks to the aim of not looking like other TV shows:
As mentioned above, Rebecca Sonnenshine and the rest of the creative team brought Archive 81 to life as an adaptation of the celebrated podcast of the same name, which was logically much more concerned with centering the story around audio elements. As seen above, I started the interview off by asking her to compare adapting this kind of source material with bringing The Boys comics to life, and she answered with:
I have a feeling that many Netflix customers’ instinct will be to squirm in their seats the entire time Archive 81 is on the screen. Or on the screen inside the screen…inside the screen. It’s Hi8 footage of turtles all the way down.
All eight episodes of Archive 81 are currently available to stream on Netflix, and assuming you donâ€™t get sucked into the story permanently, you can check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see all the other new and returning shows popping up in the coming months.