Let’s start ours Review of Archive 81 – Alternative Universes, the serie available on Netflix in eight episodes, immediately revealing the cards on the table and making no secret of them: you will not find spoilers in our analysis. It is good to say it immediately, because never as in this case the very meaning of the story lies in the mystery that, during the almost eight hours of history, the protagonist Dan (and the viewer with him) will have to unveil and solve. A mystery that at times takes steps forward, at times writhes on itself and risks becoming a dark labyrinth where reality and dreams are confused and manifest themselves together. A mystery that seems to transcend even the series itself, straddling horror, found footage, fantasy and science fiction, giving life to a strange hybrid that, at its best, has a strong impact and atmosphere. Starting from the charm of that analog world that seems far away, up to a reflection on looking at the screen and getting passionate about stories.
Restore and restore life
It’s 2019. Dan is a young archivist, passionate about videos, who, thanks to his talent in restoring old magnetic tapes, is hired by a mysterious company headed by a man named Davenport for a particular job. He will have to restore an old archive of videotapes, located in a warehouse far from the city, found by chance and saved from a fire which, in addition to collapsing an apartment building, caused the loss of all the inhabitants. Among them, the young student Melody, author of the videotapes. It is 1994 and the girl, in search of her biological mother, decides to investigate her doctoral thesis on the inhabitants of the Visser condominium. He will soon discover, in addition to the eclectic and in their own way disturbing residents, some strange sounds emanating from the central hall of the condominium. As if they were voices in prayer, a mysterious song. His entire investigation will be recorded on some videotapes, the same ones that Dan, after some time, is restoring. But the climate of loneliness and the disturbing material he is forced to see, day after day, will make him waver. Especially when he finds in the video a figure he knows: his father.
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The mystery tape
As we could guess from the short synopsis, Archive 81 – Alternative universes takes place on two temporal dimensions: the present, in which the viewer acquires Dan’s point of view, and the past, where the protagonist is Melody. A choice that is initially very original, because the storyline of Melody seems to proceed only through the vision of the tapes and the amateur shots of the girl, in the tradition of found footage. Unable to maintain this clear division, the series will soon alternate the events through an outward point of view, extracting itself from the eye of the girl’s camera and canonizing itself stylistically. It is the first clean cut that takes place in the series that has a single goal: to lengthen the mystery as much as possible, leaving the viewer constantly intrigued, and playing with the twists, even going so far as to confuse one’s audience. Because, to keep this string always excessively tense, the series makes some stylistic and narrative choices (which we do not reveal to you) that are not very successful, adding false leads, names and characters with alienating behaviors in a not too balanced way. The more the plot progresses, the easier it is to feel not entirely involved in the double story, even if there is no lack of insights that restore interest. Between satanic sects, strange musical compositions, lost silent films, clues imprinted in celluloid and hidden identities, Archive 81 constitutes a magical cauldron of mystery to be discovered.
Look to find out
The most interesting element of the series is related to the act of looking. To find answers to his questions, Dan is forced to watch a series of videos. What he sees becomes narration, no longer a testimony, but a television episode to be dissected in which to participate. Melody, on the other hand, filters all of her reality through the eye of the camera, inseparable from her hand. Her story is a recording, the unknown of her role – which will reveal itself little by little – will find identity in her being a spectator of a world that does not belong to her. Finally, the viewer is witness to both stories. In this matryoshka of glances, Archive 81 transforms its protagonists, played by Momoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi, into spectators, and makes the spectators participate in the story. Only they know all the aspects of the story to be reconstructed, only they will be able to know the solution. Assuming a real leap of faith towards the action of looking, Archive 81 – Alternative universes accumulates different situations and genres, flirting soon with an ever more extreme suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, like new Danes unable to take their eyes off the screen, so the viewer is bound to accept everything he sees.
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Solve the riddle
The finale of the series seems to leave the doors open for a second season, but at what price? Over the course of the eight episodes, despite some successful moments and some valuable stylistic choices (the introductions that seem to come from old vintage videotapes are irresistible), the plot seems to fall more and more on tracks much more canonical than expected. The answers to the various questions, rather than surprising, seem to satisfy a desire for comfort zone of the public. The same characters alternate moments in which they seem naïve to others who modify their character traits, only to continue the story with a certain ease. The enigma loses its charm and strength and even the original idea of the videotapes to be restored becomes more and more marginal. The storyline of the past dedicated to Melody acquires more and more screen time compared to the present, unbalancing the story and missing that dialogue that, instead, was present in the first episodes and made the series quite intriguing. Even that final shot doesn’t seem to shine with originality, predictable like a tape that, when it comes to an end, is bound to rewind.
At the conclusion of our review of Archive 81 – Alternative universes we can say that we have mixed feelings about these eight Netflix episodes. The series begins with an original and successful idea and, thanks to a functional staging, manages to catalyze the attention of the public, in search of the resolution of the mystery. The more the plot progresses, however, the more the series becomes unbalanced, accumulating situations at the limit and trying to complicate, lengthening, a story that is not as deep as it might seem. There remain some successful moments and some sparks of creativity, but the result may not be enough.
Because we like it
- Mystery lovers will find bread for their teeth.
- The reflection on being spectators and at the same time actors of one’s own story is interesting.
- The series has a good initial creativity …
- … that with the passing of the episodes fades, becoming more canonical, betraying the initial promises.
- Some situations are unbalanced and tend to lengthen, unnecessarily complicating the plot.