This Netflix Horror Miniseries Proved TV Can Do Found Footage Too


The big picture

  • File 81
    balances scares and uncertainty, creating a chilling atmosphere through found footage storytelling.
  • The cancellation of the show left many mysteries unresolved as Dan and Melody's story ended abruptly after a good start.
  • Found footage finds success on TV in Archive 81, with the series combining horror themes to create compelling narratives.

Since then The Blair Witch Project, found footage has been a successful horror storytelling device that aims to immerse the audience in the narrative. While the quality varies in these films, the uncertainty of what can be discovered from frame to frame works on many levels. But besides some rare examples like American Horror Story: Roanoke, the thrills of found footage horror have been confined to the big screen. In 2022, Netflix introduced another contender series that split its narrative between regular narrative and found footage. That's how File 81 became one of the most engaging experiences on the streaming platform.

The series is an adaptation of the podcast of the same name, created by Daniel Powell i Mark Sollinger. Developed for television by Rebecca Sonnenshinealso has a horror master James Wan as one of its producers. File 81 tells the story of Dan (Mamoudou Athie), a conservator who is hired to restore flowery tapes that chronicle Melody's (Dina Shihabi) discoveries while documenting the history of an apartment building called The Visser. While it doesn't rely solely on the found footage technique, it manages to make the tapes an essential element of the show, allowing its time-displaced characters to communicate. Because it was canceled prematurely, we never got to see the end of Dan and Melody's journey, however is an example of what can be achieved when using found footage in a TV show.

File 81

An archivist hired to restore a collection of tapes finds himself reconstructing the work of a filmmaker and her investigation into a dangerous cult.

Publication date
January 14, 2022

Main genre


while File 81 he does not make found material his main narrative device, but instead uses it as the backbone of the show's narrative. Cleaning tape after tape and performing each one, Dan begins his journey as part of the audience. That is, until he starts to realize that getting this job is no fluke. The tapes slowly uncover various details behind the mystery of Melody's disappearance, the fire that engulfed The Visser, and even the involvement of her father, Dr. Steve Turner (Charlie Hudson III), in the dark story. This is how Dan goes from spectator to protagonist in this elaborate web. Most found-footage films apply this narrative device as the only way to present what happens to the characters, with the risk of some details being lost along the way. File 81 goes a little further by using found footage as an introduction, letting the audience know that the following multi-camera angle scenes are part of what Dan sees on the tapes. It's like immersing yourself in the world of Melody along with Dan, providing a successful immersion in the main elements of the show..

Being an eight-part story, File 81 it has time to dabble in a lot of horror tropes that might not have been possible had it been a feature film. While many found footage films choose to focus on ghosts, possessions, or the unearthing of inhuman creatures, File 81 weaves a web in which a handful of horrors are involved. The Melody tapes document a cult whose base of operations is Visser himself. They recite creepy demonic chants at night, while a group of addicts on the sixth floor of the building keep them during the day. Melody's discoveries also lead to an attempted exorcism on Jess (Ariana Neal), a girl he befriends in The Visser. Perhaps the scariest recording is a session gone wrong, which ends with the medium tearing his face off.

The scares are achieved not only from Melody's tapes, but from other found footage pieces discovered along the way. A gruesome old tobacco film details the origins of the cult, known as the Vos Society, who worship the demon Kaelego and are actively trying to bring him to Earth from his dimension. We soon learn that the mold on the tapes is not just a moisture nuisance, but an invasive type of fungus from the Kaelego dimension. As Dan progresses in removing the mold from the tapes, the dimensional walls begin to thin, allowing him and Melody to meet.


This pre-Blair Witch Project horror film is much more realistic

The film was released a year before 'The Blair Witch Project' changed found footage forever.

Other pieces are not scary in themselves, but manage to create an unsettling atmosphere, as an advertisement for an auction of antiques that are all related to the cult. A revealing news section leads to the discovery of Father Russo (Martin Sola) killed by the cultist Samuel (Evan Jonikgeit), showing that the former had the best of intentions when trying to exorcise Jess. This way, File 81 balance between jump scares and a sense of uncertainty that builds more chills as it progresses.

“Cancellation of Archive 81 Cut Dan and Melody's Story Short

The archivist looking at something

File 81 was a great addition to Netflix's horror catalog and its overall lineup. While it got off to a good start (accumulating 129 million hours of viewing in its first three weeks) – securing a spot in Netflix's Top 10 for three weeks – its viewership dropped 50% after that his second week probably damaged and ultimately killed his renewal. possibilities. In the end, forces stronger than Kaelego led Netflix to not take Dan and Melody's story any further. The show was canceled in March, barely two months after its launch. Its cliffhanger ending left many mysteries unsolved. While Dan is able to rescue Melody after being trapped in Kaelego's dimension, the two end up being time-displaced once again, now with Melody in the present and Dan in the past. Showrunner Sonnenshine commented on it the intention was always to have a season 2 to answer all or most of the questions raised in season 1.

Regardless of File 81cancellation, the show's formula proves that found footage shouldn't be reserved for cinema. While the concept can be tiresome when spread over episodes, File 81 proves that a mix of horror themes can create great narratives with twists and turns. While we may never know if Dan finds his way home or what happens after Melody meets her mother, File 81 it's a horror show worth watching and a stark reminder that more series should incorporate found footage into their narratives.

File 81 is available to stream on Netflix in the United States

Watch on Netflix


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