‘The Third Day’ review: a hypnotic, grieving psychedelic terror form

John Donne wouldn’t know just how prescient his words would turn with the juggernaut of social media that sucks in the willing and the unwilling into its vortex, leaving no man (or person) an island of their own. But when it comes to personal grief, we’re all our individual peninsulae. Creators Dennis Kelly and Felis Barrett with co-writers Kit de Waal and Dean O’Loughlin (for two episodes), and directors Philippa Lowthorpe and Marc Munden baste this premise with tremulous terror to deliver a rad-Gothic thriller that’s hypnotic and difficult to tear yourself away from.


Jude Law: caught on an island of grief and guilt

Divided into three parts— Summer, Autumn (which was live-streamed for 12 straight hours as a ceremonial event, and isn’t available for viewing on Hotstar), and Winter—the show opens with troubled, haunted Sam (Jude Law) on his way to tend to an annual ritual of his own. All that we know is that it involves a flowing river and an item of clothing. But even as he’s done part-dousing what seems immeasurable anguish into the water, he realizes he isn’t alone in the dense woods and ends up rescuing a young girl named Epona (Jessie Ross) as she tries hanging herself with the help of a mysterious now-you-see-him-now-you don’t boy. It turns out she lives across the periodically flooded causeway on Osea island, and Sam feels obliged to get her back to her place.

Katherine Waterston: a terrific act.

As he enters the island, your skin begins to prick up with unease, echoes of the marvelous The Wicker Man beginning to ring closer and closer. As the time ticks by for the causeway to flood again—and leave Sam stuck on Osea for the night—you know he won’t leave, despite desperately wanting to get back to his wife and children and to solve the theft of £40,000 from their office. But he’s slowly sucked into the powerful force of the island and its mysterious inhabitants, some of whom are friendly, some overtly hostile, but all seeming to circle around a mysterious epicenter of a past and future that connect to everything that’s happened and continues to occur. He seems to have found friends in the local pub owners Mrs. And Mr. Martin (a fantastic Emily Watson and Paddy Considine), a resident at the pub, and Osea habitué Jess (an incandescently mysterious Katherine Waterston) while having made instant enemies of Epona’s father, the rifle-happy Jason (Mark Lewis Jones), a bludgeon-happy Larry (John Dagleish, terrific), and they all crash into each other to explode and burgeon the mystery further.

Naomie Harris: a steely, superb act.

Another thread takes over nine months after Sam’s story in winter and this one involves Helen (Naomie Harris) and her daughters Ellie and Talulah (Nico Parker and Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell, both revealing layers of emotional wreckage and innocent beauty) visiting Osea for Ellie’s birthday. Helen’s booked a room for the getaway, but when they cross the causeway, there are no rooms available and something acidic and acrid seems to be brewing on the island. There’s no way to say anything more without this piece becoming a spoiler, but the Winter segment opening is one of the most terrifying sequences I’ve seen and the tension ratchets up relentlessly, even as emotions and beliefs come pouring out in a bloody flood. 

Nico Parker and Naomie Harris: winter doesn’t get chillier than this.

Creators Kelly and Barrett throw into relief all that we’ve seen across political and religious scapes these last couple of years. Power and control struggles to lead lost folks into promised bliss at the sacrificial altar of humane behavior, a violently polarized populace, relationships thwarted and cleaved because of the truth versus vision war, heartbreak manipulated to trigger madness, all get a visual canvas that’s atmospheric and woozily stunning. The aerial shots of the causeway, the LED bright imagery, the psychedelic tracking and pulling out camera-work, the hand-held camera tremors that translate into shivers for you, are captured, exposed, and printed on a surreal screen by cinematographers David Chizallet and Benjamin Kracun. Composers Dickon Hinchliffe and Cristobal Tapia de Veer add eerie tracks that trigger goosebumps. Niv Adiri’s sound design is the best I’ve heard on streaming—every chitter, chirp, creak, snap, furniture movement, and nature’s sound overlaid on hallucinogenic visuals that float about your senses, amplifying the dread and portends.

Paddy Considine, Emily Watson: inn too deep.

While not all of what happens in The Third Day is unpredictable—and it certainly covers a lot of been-there-shocked-by-that ground—it works vice-like, almost like a drug. That drug could be, as for so many seeking solace, numbing grief, losses, personal upheavals, or simply an escape route from life’s unending drill, a ritualistic relief. It could be a way forward for redemption. Or, it could be that there’s no way out, all of us trapped in our own personal Oseas, connected occasionally by a causeless-way. Aided by a superb cast, the leads are in fine form. Jude Law crumbles, rearranges, and lends a monotonically rising imploding energy to his act. Naomie Harris is marvelous, simply. She bears intense grit and hysterical urgency in her act, tough as steel, vulnerable as only a mother can be. She is the cord that ties her daughters in a protective thread. She is the force that can freeze or burn to protect her creation. She is a mother. She is Mother Earth. 

The Third Day (2020) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

The Third Day is streaming on Hotstar and rated A (Adults Only) for intense scenes and profanity.

The Third Day
Directors Philippa Lowthorpe and Marc Munden Time~ 1h Writers Felix Barrett, Dennis Kelly, Kit de Waal, Dean O’Loughlin
Stars Jude Law, Naomie Harris, Emily WatsonPaddy ConsidineJohn Dagleish, Mark Lewis Jones
Genres Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller