Netflix releases horror productions almost constantly: it is a fashionable genre and sometimes it is difficult to separate the grain from the chaff between so many haunted houses, spectral curses and neighbors with evil intentions. But there is two recently released miniseries (‘File 81’, just a few days ago, and ‘New cherry flavor’, last summer) that establish a unique dialogue with each other and that speak of many things and very well, but above all, of our unique relationship with moving images.
Ambas miniseries they have defining elements in common. To begin with, the superficial: there are two important names of the genre within them. James Wan, creator of franchises such as ‘Saw’, ‘The Warren File’, ‘Insidious’ and the recent and unclassifiable ‘Malignant’, is the producer of ‘file 81‘; and Nick Antosca, one of the innovators of the genre today, creator of the disturbing ‘Channel Zero’, is also behind ‘new cherry flavor‘.
But if we delve into their arguments, there is more: both have a narrative structure far removed from the conventions, sinuous and where it is not at all clear what is true and what is a hallucination. ‘New flavor of cherry’, as always happens with Antosca, plays on the constant extravagance and surprise and ‘Archivo 81’ is somewhat more rigorous with its hallucinations, but both play the confusion, characters who are subjected to pressure of perhaps supernatural origin and that leads them to doubt everything their senses perceive.
And finally, the protagonists of both are women who live a bit in a terrifying version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, entering closed worlds that live by their own and often inexplicable rules. In the case of ‘File 81’, Melody Pendras investigates in the eighties the existence of a sinister cult in a block of buildings where she believes a woman she never knew disappeared. In ‘A New Taste of Cherry’, Lisa Nova is immersed in the opaque back room of Hollywood when she tries to sell the rights to an amateur film she has shot.
The indescribable magnetism of the moving image
On top of all this and the overwhelming rhythm that both spend, which leads them to thread a suffocating and unique atmosphere, almost psychedelic in the case of ‘New flavor of cherry’, there is something else that links them, and it is curious that it is something so defining in what are undoubtedly the two most unique and personal horror productions on Netflix. It is about the magnetism of moving images, of cinema as an industry or as an expressive medium: In both productions, the audiovisual is endowed with characteristics closer to cursed objects or Lovecraftian grimoires.
In ‘File 81’ that concept is at the very starting point of the series: a young restorer of expired formats receives a mysterious assignment. Locked in a complex owned by a mysterious association, he has to recover the images of some tapes found in a fire. They are tapes recorded by the aforementioned Melody Pendras, and the boy’s exposure to her images will end up generating disturbing crosses between past and present.
Also in the immediate germ of ‘New Cherry Flavor’ is the esoteric, indescribable power of images: Lisa Nova makes a Faustian pact with a producer when she arrives in Hollywood, and so the series looks to classic icons. of demonic literature. But, in addition, that movie amateur of her past and that fascinates all those who come close to her has a black and gloomy imprint. Terrible and inexplicable things happened on that shoot and that evil element is transferred to everyone who approaches not only the production, but Lisa Nova herself, who looks like a living film reel, since she has acquired all the curse of her own creation.
Those who have seen the two series will notice the clear similarities between Melody and Lisa, both steeped in death and mystery by the respective inconceivable images they have generated, one as a researcher and the other as a creator. In the case of ‘Archivo 81’ there is something else: a lost television series from the 1980s, ‘El Círculo’, which the protagonist finds in a VHS tape market. It is not the only reference to “cursed” images, since two other very different aspects of sick audiovisual appear later in the series: soap operas and snuff movies.
This idea of infected and dangerous audiovisual material, which transmits evil between generations, between social classes, between planes of reality, between species even invisibly, is forced in both series by the importance given to the treatment of physical objects . In the case of ‘Area 81’ the almost fetishistic fascination with outdated formats and how they are restored is especially interesting: VHS and Beta tapes, home cameras, surveillance tapes, cassettes, everything is meticulously treated as late 20th century necronomicons.
Netflix has thus opted for two series that go beyond the macabre immediacy of other genre productions, but that also distance themselves from the careful work of atmosphere and characters by Mike Flanagan, who with his ‘Midnight Mass’ has shown that he also he is exploring his own avenues. ‘File 81’ and ‘New Cherry Flavor’ are two very current stories and at the same time addicted to the past and to the celebration of physical media, aware that tapes, records and paper carry a dark spell from which it is not easy to escape.