Art-house pictures almost always come with an acquired taste. When it comes to HBO’s recent mini-series The Third Day, that couldn’t be more true. With big themes, lots of intriguing symbology and a very moody, atmospheric tone, The Third Day channels that Blair Witch/Wicker Man energy to produce something that’s very different to what’s been released this year.
Like Raised By Wolves and Devs before it, The Third Day begins very promisingly and its atmosphere is ultimately what will keep you sticking around until the end. Whether the end result will be enjoyable enough to make the 6 week ride worth taking however, is another matter.
To backtrack though, the story takes place on the mysterious British island of Osea. The first three episodes follow our protagonist Sam as an -admittedly contrived – series of events see him stuck on this island.
Once there, it soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems. The residents are unnerving, only made worse by the upcoming festival emanating a cult-like energy at work. These early scenes are gripping, intense and full of dread.
Episode 4 switches the perspective to a brand new character called Helen. She arrives on the island with her two children simply claiming she’s there for a “holiday”. It soon becomes clear though there’s more going on, which is slowly revealed across the remaining 3 episodes.
Thee set-up is certainly good and the plot twists at the end of episodes 3 and 4 are really the big highlights here. Unfortunately, this is also where the story starts to fall apart a bit.
For all the talk about a growing war, big cult-like ideas and atmospheric tension, the pay-off is minimal at best and ultimately feels underwhelming. Given the 6 week wait for this, I can’t help but feel that this show could have worked better being released across 2 weeks with 3 episodes on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Although the ending does disappoint, there’s a lot of positives along the way to help quell some of that. The acting and style here both do their part too, perfectly capturing the mood of this series.
The latter features close-up cameras are uncomfortable and claustrophobic – reflecting those ideas felt by Sam early on. By comparison, episodes 4-6 use a lot of smooth establishing shots that really show off the size of Osea. Again, this reflects Helen’s feelings of being alone and isolated.
This symbiotic relationship between camera and character is one of the best elements of the show and certainly worth some brownie points. That goes for the visuals too which change as the series progresses.
The first half is very colourful and vibrant while the second half sucks all that colour away to show off a much colder and darker side to Osea. It really is a wonderful way of dressing a set.
The acting too is very good all round, with Jude Law delivering a very impressive performance. His heartfelt sorrow and continued haunts from the past are partly what makes his character so fascinating to watch here. It can’t have been easy to tap into that raw emotion, and Jude Law pulls it off with ease.
For all the visuals and stylistic beauty though, the one thing people will remember the most from this will be the story. This is unfortunately where The Third Day slips up a little.
Abandoning its substance for style, The Third Day is an intriguing, polarizing series that’s almost certainly going to divide people on that thin line between outright hating and loving this show. With a bit of script tweaking, this could easily be one of the best shows of the year.
The Third Day feels a little like Osea – a distant glimmer somewhere in the distance of the mainland that’s worth the journey but unlikely to be somewhere you return to in a hurry.