Netflix’s Archive 81 straddles a plethora of genres, calling to mind horror, sci-fi, thriller, and fantasy, with a touch of low-budget indie influences. And while the series, which incorporates found footage, raises a number of questions, many viewers will likely be wondering whether the plot is based on a true story.
Archive 81 follows archivist Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), a VHS enthusiast who’s hired for a mysterious project involving some recently recovered tapes from the ’90s. The old-school camcorder footage was shot in the sinisterly-named Visser apartment building by Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi). Many of the tapes are melted and messed up, on account of the building burning down in 1994. As Dan restores and catalogues the footage, he’s drawn deeper into the mystery of the building and its residents. Plus, when his own father shows up on screen, he realizes he’s more involved in what happened than he ever thought possible.
But is Netflix’s Archive 81 based upon a true story? Was the Visser building a real place? And did Melody really document her life on a collection of VHS tapes? Here’s what you need to know.
Is Archive 81 based on a true story?
With the use of VHS tapes, old school camcorders, and archival footage, it’s easy to see why some viewers might wonder if Archive 81 is based in truth. After all, with the resurgence of VHS tapes and other analogue recording formats, the thought of finding someone’s long lost video diary isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility. But sadly (or perhaps thankfully), Archive 81 isn’t based on a true story. The creatively creepy series is actually fictional.
As you work your way through all eight episodes of Netflix’s latest spooky show, you’ll probably be glad of the fact that Archive 81 isn’t real, too. Thanks to its found footage format, the series strikes an important balance between almost plausible and completely downright bonkers. Think of Archive 81 as a nostalgia-heavy Paranormal Activity, or the original The Blair Witch Project meets Insidious.
So how did Archive 81 come to life?
Archive 81 started out as a podcast, which was created by Marc Sollinger and Daniel Powell. The podcast is currently in its third season, and already had a ton of fans when Netflix decided to adapt the story. As noted by the podcast’s official website, “Archive 81 is a found footage horror podcast about ritual, stories, and sound.” These themes are all carried over into the TV show, which is helmed by showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine (The Vampire Diaries, The Boys).
Discussing the inspiration behind the podcast, co-creator Powell told TV Over Mind, “I’ve worked at a sound effects library for the past two years, and one of my jobs is reviewing and listening to all the sound effects that we acquire before they go live to the site.” He continued, “I do this job from home so I’ve spent more time than anyone should alone in my apartment listening to weird noises. That experience, plus a general appreciation for found footage style of horror storytelling were a major inspiration.”
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By adding visuals to an already haunting soundscape, Netflix has helped bring the Archive 81 universe to life, and it’s a pretty chilling experience. If The Ring still gives you nightmares, prepare for a slew of videotape-inspired bad dreams.
Does the Visser building exist?
Anyone hoping to visit the site of Archive 81‘s famous Visser building is going to be disappointed. Sadly, the Visser is not a real place, and despite being set in New York, the series was actually filmed in Pittsburgh. Matt McGorry, who plays Dan’s best friend Mark in the show, told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The spirit of where something is filmed usually makes it into the DNA of the show… As much as we’re supposed to be in New York City, I know for me it was always Pittsburgh and will forever be Pittsburgh in my mind.”
McGorry also revealed that the reason the city often feels so deserted in season 1 of Archive 81 is because the show was filmed during lockdown. “One of the reasons I hope we get a season 2 is for the opportunity to explore the city when it’s full and vibrant and things aren’t as closed down,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Why does Archive 81 feel so real?
Thanks to its mixture of VHS-style found footage and a cast of compelling characters, Archive 81 often feels distressingly real. And while 1994 wasn’t that long ago, the use of analogue camcorders and VHS tapes quickly dates the series, placing viewers in a time capsule that feels both real and otherworldly at the same time. But by the time the first season reaches its cliffhanger, it’s pretty clear that Archive 81 isn’t based in our reality, despite some of its horror feeling all too real.
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