Hidden Horrors: What to Watch if You Liked Archive 81 on Netflix

Andrew Buckle,

When archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie, Uncorked) is hired by a charismatic businessman and tasked to restore a collection of fire-damaged videotapes from 1994, he finds himself obsessed with solving the mystery of the missing director, Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi, Altered Carbon), and a cult she discovers operating in her apartment block. The story is told predominantly across these two timelines – 1994 and the present day – as Dan restores Melody’s increasingly-stressful experiences, while dealing with the terrors of his own isolation and fraying sanity.

This gripping series is created by Rebecca Sonnenshine (The Boys, The Vampire Diaries), with episodes directed by Rebecca Thomas (Electrick Children), Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (Spring) and Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda) and the pedigree of these filmmakers shines through in the building of suspense and the the collective commitment to ensuring the audience is really invested in the plight of the two characters.

If you’re a fan of the show, or if you’re intrigued by the premise, we’ve picked out some similar movies and TV shows we think you’ll enjoy. Warning: mild spoilers to follow.

While this series has a number of clear inspirations – some that the creator has publicly shared her admiration for – Archive 81 does pack a lot of different ideas into it’s 8 episodes.

Archive 81 could sit as part of the found footage sub-genre. Melody was creating a documentary of the history of her building so is rarely without her camera as she interacts with the tenants, and everything she experiences is being recorded. Dan, as he watches the footage, unexpectedly becomes an amateur investigator working with fragments of slowly-restored information. He seeks assistance from his supportive friend, supernatural enthusiast Mark (Matt McGorry, also Uncorked).

He begins to suspect that there is something sinister (and otherworldly) present within these tapes, and that something horrible might have happened to Melody. What does his employer want him to find? Dan represents a cinema full of horror buffs, fearing what horror – Dan understands this to be real footage, not fiction – is going to reveal itself next but unable to look away. He possesses a compulsion to keep going.

There is also something fascinating about the idea that evil can be trapped within old technology. Grainy Hi8 camcorder tape footage can have an otherworldly feel to it, needing to be carefully handled like a relic of the past. They hold secrets, moments in time that maybe shouldn’t see the light of day again. Just as dust and mold can destroy the fragile components – that only experts can clean and re-assemble – what if an entity could make it’s home inside and be able to travel through time with the footage?

Archive 81 would also have a home in the paranoid thriller genre. Is Dan really interpreting the footage of sound mind? We learn he has a history of mental illness. How much is the isolation and the stress affecting him? In Melody’s storyline she suspects that there is something strange happening in her building. She witnesses it, but unable to truly understand her neighbours’ motivations and intentions, is she letting her imagination – and her desperation to create a meaningful documentary – get the better of her?

So, here is a list of movies and shows that we feel are worth checking out if you were as freaked out and fascinated by Archive 81 as we were.

The Conversation (1974)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) and starring Gene Hackman, The Conversation is an undisputed classic. Surveillance expert Harry Caul (Hackman) is hired by a mysterious client to tail a young couple. Tracking the pair through San Francisco’s Union Square, Caul and his associate (John Cazale) manage to record a cryptic conversation between them. Tormented by memories of an ill-fated previous case, and believing the couple to be in danger, Caul becomes obsessed with the tape.

The Conversation is currently not available for streaming.

Sinister (2012)

Ethan Hawke (First Reformed) stars as a washed up crime writer who, desperate to write a hit novel, moves his family to the home of a recently murdered family in the hope of investigating the crime. After his investigations lead him to a box of Super 8 home movies, the eerie footage suggests a haunting supernatural entity with a legacy tracing back to the 1960s.

Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.

Equinox: Season 1 (2020)

In 1999, nine-year-old Astrid is traumatized by the mysterious disappearance of her sister Ida during her high school graduation celebration. Twenty-one years later, and still suffering from nightmares and horrific visions, Astrid (portrayed by Danica Curcic, The Chestnut Man) decides to investigate after she receives an unexpected call, and warning, from one of the survivors.

Stream now on Netflix.*

The Canal (2014)

A film archivist (Rupert Evans, The Man in the High Castle) finds his sanity crumbling after he is given a 16mm film reel with footage from a horrific murder that occurred at his house in the early 1900s. After becoming obsessed with the case, his behaviour growing increasingly erratic, he borrows early 20th Century cameras to shoot footage around his home and neighbouring canal, where he hopes to capture evidence of supernatural activity.

Buy or rent now on iTunes or Google Play.

The Empty Man (2021)

On the trail of a missing girl, whose disappearance leaves behind a message written in blood saying “The Empty Man made me do it” an ex-cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale, 24) learns that the girl was encouraged by her friends to summon the terrifying local legend. Besieged by nightmares and hallucinations his perilous probing leads him to a secret cult, which he infiltrates.

Buy or rent now in the Movie Store.

Fringe: Season 1-5 (2008-2012)

FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Australia’s Anna Torv, Manhunter) is assigned to the bureau’s Fringe Division, which uses experimental science to investigate unusual crimes and occurrences related to mysteries surrounding a parallel universe.

This acclaimed sci-fi show ran for 5 seasons and all are available to stream on 7plus.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

A horror classic from director Roman Polanski (Chinatown) that stands the test of time. Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her struggling actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) move to a New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and odd neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet (Sidney Blackmer, Ruth Gordon). When Rosemary falls pregnant she believes her neighbours have sinister intentions for her baby.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

The Vast of Night (2020)

Set in New Mexico in the 1950s, the story is loosely based on the Kecksburg UFO incident and Foss Lake disappearances. Fay Crocker, a young switchboard operator and Everett Sloan, a radio disc jockey, discover a mysterious audio frequency that could be extraterrestrial in origin.

Stream now on Prime Video.*

*Netflix and Prime Video streaming subscriptions required.

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