An apartment building with ties to the occult. A person obsessed with a mystery they uncover in found footage. The blurring of media and reality. Surveillance and paranoia. The possibility of other dimensions! Netflix’s spooky series Archive 81 combines all of these elements, and it does it so well it’s no shocker it’s become a huge hit for the streamer.
But Archive 81 is only eight episodes. What are you going to watch once you’ve binge-watched all of Melody (Dina Shihabi) and Dan (Mamoudou Athie)’s bizarre adventures? While there’s nothing out there exactly like it — don’t worry, we won’t be spoiling any Archive 81 plot twists if it’s still on your watchlist — we’ve come up with eight films that share enough similar themes to act as sort of companion pieces.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Haunted by the loss of his wife, a Chicago video archivist (Harry Shum Jr.) stumbles across an unsettling series of broadcast signal intrusions. Soon, he begins to believe the images that appear in the clips may be intimately tied to his own life, and his grasp on reality begins to spiral as he digs deeper and deeper into their origins and meaning. Broadcast Signal Intrusion came out last year, but it’s set in 1999 and makes excellent use of Y2K-era fears about technology in a time when the tech world was rapidly changing. This is the film that came to mind first while I was watching Archive 81 — and while its story is not as intricate as the one that unravels across the series, its doom-laden mood is very similar.
Any story set in a New York City apartment building with a sinister, supernaturally inclined past probably owes a debt to Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror classic. While the circumstances surrounding Rosemary’s Baby’s pregnant housewife and Archive 81‘s curious, camera-toting grad student are far from identical, both women begin to fear their surroundings — and start to sense that someone or something is out to get them — with similar degrees of white-hot fear. Also, Melody’s snooping turns up Archive 81‘s equivalent of All of Them Witches at one point, though alas Dan never does figure out an anagram using Scrabble tiles.
Another ominous NYC apartment building — this one constructed by an alchemist to house one of three ancient witch sisters — is the convincingly macabre setting for this 1980 Dario Argento classic, in which an Italian music student picks up his sister’s dangerous quest into the building’s history after she goes missing (very Melody-esque). The residents of Archive 81‘s Visser Apartments are memorably odd, but they’ve got nothing on the weirdos who populate Inferno’s dark hallways.
Rounding out this article’s trio of entries spotlighting surreal NYC real estate is this 1977 tale of a glamorous model (Cristina Raines) who realises too late that her new Brooklyn apartment was built over a hellmouth, and that the great deal she thought she was getting comes with a hefty (and spooky as hell) price.
As sure as you know that phone’s gonna ring with a dire warning after you watch The Ring’s cursed video tape, you knew this title was gonna pop up on this list. Whether you watch Hideo Nakata’s 1998 original or the 2002 Gore Verbinski remake, you’re guaranteed a cautionary tale about the terrors that can emerge from something as seemingly benign as a dusty old VHS tape… something Archive 81‘s Dan learns all too well. And like Archive 81, The Ring tells a story of found footage possessed of an eerie magic that allows it to find its way into the real world, with devastating results.
That blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alien invasion subplot aside, 2018’s Searching is really more of a thriller than a genre movie. Its Archive 81 connection is the fact that it relies almost solely on technology to solve a potentially terrible crime, following a father (Cowboy Bebop’s John Cho) as he frantically combs through his teen daughter’s computer and phone, gathering scraps of evidence and clues as he tries to puzzle together her whereabouts. The other thing it has in common with Archive 81 is that it makes the act of watching a character staring at a computer a genuinely nail-biting experience, much like watching Dan and his video tapes.
In this 2021 release, Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor in 1985 Britain, catches sight of a banned horror film and becomes convinced that it stars her sister — who has somehow been alive all this time after going missing as a child, and is now working against her will in the exploitation film industry. We’re not sure what to believe as Enid, who proves to be a highly unreliable narrator, becomes more unhinged in her relentless pursuit of the truth — not unlike Archive 81‘s Dan, who can hardly believe his eyes when the recordings he’s become fixated on start oozing into his own life.
There’s a behind-the-scenes connection at work with this one, since filmmaking team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead — who wrote, directed, and co-starred in 2018’s low-budget sci-fi tale The Endless; their latest, Something in the Dirt, just had its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival — also directed two episodes of Archive 81 (episode three, “Terror in the Aisles,” and episode four, “Spirit Receivers”). The Endless is about brothers who return to the isolated, desert-dwelling community (possibly a UFO death cult?) they belonged to some years prior, lured back after receiving a mysterious videotape featuring its members. Cryptic images, a secretive group whose members only selectively tell the truth, the possibility of some malevolent power pulling all the strings? Let’s just say if you’ve seen The Endless, you’ll understand why Archive 81 was such a perfect fit for them.