If there’s one thing that film and TV history teaches us, it’s that strangers visiting remote communities is not a good idea. The Wicker Man, Netflix‘s Apostle, Midsommar – there are no happy endings here. Sky-HBO co-production The Third Day, starring Jude Law and Naomie Harris, is the next big-budget project to adopt the premise – and the results are mixed.
Split into three separate parts – ‘Summer’ (three episodes), ‘Autumn’ (an “immersive theatre event” broadcast live from London) and ‘Winter’ (three episodes) – The Third Day is at the very least inventive. In the first part, ‘Summer’, Law plays bereaved husband Sam – an episodic psychosis sufferer who happens upon the mysterious Osea Island during festival season. Reachable only at low tide via a causeway, this chunk of British land off the coast of Essex is populated by the likes of Paddy Considine’s Mr Martin and Emily Watson’s foul-mouthed Mrs Martin (“How c**ting lovely!” she remarks during one scene), whose inn plays host to off-kilter shenanigans involving the locals. While staying there, Sam meets Jess (Fantastic Beasts‘ Katherine Waterston) and the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur.
In the middle of a breakdown, Sam’s fever-dream state is captured via intense close-ups by director Marc Munden. Aided by a cryptic script from Dennis Kelly and Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s disturbing score, the former-Utopia triumvirate have succeeded in crafting a haunting and colourful mystery drama that deals with weighty themes like faith and grief.
Skipping ‘Autumn’ (the “immersive theatre event” hasn’t been filmed yet), The Third Day arrives at ‘Winter’, which belongs to Naomie Harris’ character Helen. Driving to Osea with her two young daughters – she explains that the island is a great archaeological treasure to her studious eldest – the family’s idyllic weekend away quickly spirals into a nightmare. “Go home, believe me it’s for the best!” a local hotelier says before shutting the door in Helen’s face. Does the Booking.com star rating mean nothing to these people?
As Helen and her squabbling kids roam the freezing terrain, encountering weirdo after weirdo and the odd mutilated animal, Harris imbues Helen with an affable determination. This time we know what she’s up against, so it’s a relief to find we’re in the company of someone a bit more attentive than Law’s Sam. When the customs of the islanders manage to rattle our new protagonist, the atmosphere in The Third Day morphs into a low-key kind of horror à la Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. This is the show’s best form – and it’ll be fascinating to see which way ‘Autumn’ goes when it airs in October.
Four months after it was originally scheduled to premiere – COVID-19 pushed back post-production – The Third Day arrives with two standout episodes (five were available for review, not including the live-streamed, mid-season ‘Autumn’ and October 19’s last episode). It might not blow anybody’s socks off but for those who choose to stick by it, next month’s finale promises a mouthwatering – if, likely ill-fated – climax.
‘The Third Day’ premieres September 15 on HBO