If a mysterious, suicidal girl invites you to her mysterious, secluded town, it’s probably wise to say “Thanks, but no thanks.” Sadly, that doesn’t occur to Jude Law in The Third Day. Law plays Sam, a grief-stricken man who we meet in the midst of a breakdown. He’s haunted by a tragedy from his past and also dealing with suddenly losing a huge sum of money. So perhaps he can be forgiven for having his guard down and heading off to a town that feels like the offspring of The Wicker Man and Midsommar.
After quite literally stumbling upon the suicide attempt of a girl named Epona (Jessie Ross), Sam is determined to see the young lady home. Home just happens to be Osea, a small island town that’s only accessible via a causeway. And that causeway spends most of the time underwater, meaning you can only get two and from the island at certain small windows of time. Immediately, red flags should be going up for poor old Sam, but again – he’s in bad shape, emotionally, so he’s not thinking clearly.
You see where this is going, right? Sam gets to town, meets the locals, the locals behave really weirdly, and Sam soon can’t get off the damn island because the causeway is underwater. It’s pretty much by-the-book stuff we’re dealing with here, and anyone who has ever watched a movie about some poor soul wandering into a spooky, secluded town will know the lay of the land.
That’s not to say The Third Day is without its charms. Indeed, the first half of the miniseries is atmospheric as hell, building a considerable tension and managing to convey some genuinely chilling imagery: people wearing creepy masks; strange, bloody dreams; and bugs – lots and lots of bugs. And every chance Sam has to get off the island – he comes really close at one point, driving almost halfway – ends up thwarted. And then there’s American tourist Jess (Katherine Waterston), who Sam is drawn to. The two take LSD one night and wander the woods, resulting in some gorgeous, haunting imagery (at one point, Sam slowly floats above the town in one unbroken shot).
The Third Day is broken in half. The first three episodes, subtitled “Summer”, are all about Sam, and they are without question the best episodes the miniseries has to offer. While Sam’s journey may be a tad too predictable, it’s still effective. As Sam wanders around he encounters stranger and stranger things, most of it involving a local religion that blends both Christian and Pagan symbology. The local pub owners – played by Paddy Considine and Emily Watson – are overly friendly, until they’re not. And the fate of Epona remains in question – every time Sam asks to see her to see how she’s doing, he’s denied access.
These three episodes have a conclusion, of sorts. And while you might know where it’s going (I did), it still packs a bit of a punch. The dreamy island imagery, where everything seems constantly foggy and damp, mixed with the religious fervor of the town make for spooky stuff. Unfortunately, The Third Day doesn’t end things here. Instead, it goes on for three more episodes.
This second half of the miniseries is “Winter”, and it follows Helen (Naomie Harris) and her two kids as they, too, end up in Osea. And here is where The Third Day runs into serious problems. Because while we know what’s going on on the island (sort of), Helen doesn’t – which means we have to watch Helen navigate the same mysterious stuff we already saw Sam go through.
This approach ends up making The Third Day feel like an okay horror movie and it’s subpar sequel crammed together into one big story, and it just doesn’t work. This isn’t Harris’ fault – she’s doing the best she can with the material she has. But Law has much more to sink his teeth into in his half of the series, and watching Harris’ Helen stumble around discovering stuff we’ve already learned certainly doesn’t help. Eventually, the two narratives find a way to coincide, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing here. Much like Sam’s story, it’s pretty clear where Helen’s tale is going.
But since the goings-on here are so mysterious there’s more than one occasion where all the action has to stop so a character can explain exactly what’s going on. It’s a tad maddening, and again and again, I kept thinking how much more solid this whole endeavor would be had it just whittled itself down into a feature film. As far as well-mounted HBO prestige shows go, The Third Day is handsome to behold – the visuals, from the way the camera gives us a bird’s eye view of the flooded causeway, to the way Sam goes sprinting through some tall grass, are all meticulously crafted. But in the end, there’s just not much here.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
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