HBO’s The Third Day Series Premiere Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers
Telling a two-sided mystery on a secluded British island, HBO kicks off its newest miniseries, The Third Day, that sets up a strange cult thriller that’s familiar, but freshly intriguing.
The series’ story is split into two three-episode parts with the first half following Sam (Jude Law). Sam is a family man that has come into some distress as some bribery money that could change his life forever depending on who’s hands it gets in is jeopardy. However, after helping a troubled girl he finds in the woods, he decides to put his affairs on hold and take her back to her home on the secluded and strange Osea Island. Upon arriving, he sees that they are preparing for some kind of cultural music festival that invites locals and outsiders alike and he’s eventually forced to stay after the only route off the island becomes inaccessible. Sam’s presence causes a slight divisiveness within the locals and he begins to realize that the island holds a mysterious presence of its own and that its people are willing to preserve their traditions at any cost.
Law is really great at making Sam’s goodhearted nature, secretive troubles, and growing curiosity something that you naturally connect to as a viewer. It’s easy to tell that something’s up with him as we’re introduced to him being completely rattled by his financial dilemma and that he might be involved in something super unethical, but he equally creates a strong sense of empathy for Sam with the way he cares for the young girl he finds in some deadly distress named Epona (Jessie Ross). There’s something oddly comforting, but strangely mysterious about Sam and Law does a great job bringing that out while also making you just as creepily curious about what’s really going on with the island and its local inhabitants as Sam is. Even though Sam is persistent on leaving, that doesn’t stop him from looking around, being concerned with Epona’s well-being, and understanding what’s going on with this festival.
It’s actually great that Sam is such a curious and helpful person as it allows some details about the island and its inhabitants to come out. First of all, visually, the series carries this simple, but eerie atmosphere as it really transports us to an island that’s thinly connected to society. The causeway, a path that becomes accessible when the tide lowers, looks incredible as this secretive pathway to hidden world. It’s this perfect blend of fantasy and horror in a realistic setting and it creates this eerie tone that sets up some creepy cult activities that aren’t too off the beaten path.
Overall, what we see of this community isn’t too far off expectations for what we’ve seen with creepy cults in the past. Things like animal mutilations, creepy mysterious kids off in the distance, a strange festival that, of course, just happens to be when Sam is there, and even the way that locals divisively treat him make the cult stuff we see here a little too typical. Sam’s unknown familiarity with the island also is a little too par for the course with this kind of things and it’s unfortunate that these kinds of cult horror stories are starting to blend together. However, there’re some unique aspects to it that come into play as Sam begins to get to know the locals and some local lore is discussed.
The island has a strange history as the community was created by a local man who used the island as a place for his drunk friends to go to get sober and re-acclimate themselves. Makes sense given that the island is so far off the coast and everyone hangs around the local pub with this drunken joy for one another. However, there’s another element to this that surrounds a three-day rehabilitation period that likely gives the more meaning to the series’ cryptic title. There’s also some very intriguing imagery with these giant statues for the music festival that look like they relate to some kind of religious cultural background, which is fitting with how a local barkeep named Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine) say that the community heavily believes in God, and the legend of Sajora that ties into how impactful the sea is to this community. The sand rug that Sam spots in a bathroom and even just the causeway in general tie into how this community mysteriously connects to the water around them and sets up an intriguing mystery that could go to unique places. Not to mention, while Mr. Martin say that the community is full of people of God, the backwards “sign of the cross” he does with another local says that they believe in something quite different.
There are also some personal details about Sam’s past that gets revealed and another outsider in the form of an American researcher named Jess (Katherine Waterston). Although there isn’t too much revealed about Jess thus far other than that she’s on the island to research the festival, another annoying trope of these movies, her tough and dominating attitude makes her standout and will likely lead to some trouble for her as an outsider. Sam also isn’t a total outsider to some as Mrs. Martin (Emily Watson) discusses about how he’s familiar to her and discloses some very personal details about a tragedy he’s faced. She talks about how Sam has lost what I believe to be his son, aka the little boy he keeps seeing, and its an interesting connection that makes sense given that we initially see him grieving in the woods at the start of the episode. It’ll be interesting to see how Sam’s time on the island plays out given his checkered past and what horrors he will encounter along the way.
While The Third Day presents it’s cultish horrors in an overly familiar fashion, it’s the little details we learn about them and the creepy atmospheric visuals that make keep them intriguing and a stellar performance from Law that sucks you into the mystery of it all.