The Third Day Review – A cultic mystery that gets lost in its own craziness 6

Some reviews just come to you naturally while you’re watching a movie or series. And then there are others, like The Third Day, that leave you struggling to find the words to describe what it is that you just watched. Normally, this is a good thing when a story is thought-provoking and challenges you. With this series though, the source of that head-scratching and confusion more because so little of what happened on screen made any sense.

The Third Day is a new drama series from HBO that is split into two parts and tells the story of a mysterious island named Osea which gets cut off from the mainland when there is a high tide. More specifically, it tells of the lives of its crazy inhabitants. The first part, titled Summer, stars Jude Law as Sam, a man who is drawn to this strange island when trying to save the life of a young girl, only to get caught up in the mysteries Osea has to offer. Whereas the second part, titled Winter, tells the story of Helen (Naomi Harris) who comes to the same island looking for answers only to find the Osea stuck in a horrible and violent war with itself.

The Third Day Review – A cultic mystery that gets lost in its own craziness 7

Each of the shows two parts take place over three episodes and feature a similar narrative trend that – outside of the last episode – takes place mostly on a separate day on the island. The Third Day tries to be equal parts drama, mystery, and horror while leaning heavily into religious cultism and various aspects of mythology as the underlying premise for the events of this mysterious island and its crazed inhabitants. And while you could argue that religious cults at the best of times are stupid, the motivations that form the basis for these cultic behaviours are beyond ridiculous with no consistency, which makes this series very difficult to get into.

Perhaps some of this comes down to the fact that the series is trying to do too much with far too many characters that you do not care about. It is the kind of idea that would’ve worked with a far simpler narrative and may have even made for an enticing horror movie. In the end, it gets lost in over-exposition, confusing pacing, and just too many faces.     

The Third Day Review – A cultic mystery that gets lost in its own craziness 8

There are definitely good ideas in this story though and plenty of twists if you’re willing to look past all of the unnecessary fluff. Especially the second half of this series, which is infinitely more watchable, even if it leaves you without any decent conclusion and a bunch of questions in the end. Except that its questions that you don’t want to know the answer to and wish you never needed to ask about in the first place.

In fact, many of the problems in this series may lie in its two-part structure, with the first three episodes directed by Marc Munden and the last three by Philippa Lowthorpe. Whereas Munden tries to be bold and outrageous in his direction, leading to many surreal and dream-like moments when you question the reality of what Law’s character is experiencing, it leans far too heavily into an avant-garde territory and forgets to just tell a good story. The second half of the series, while perhaps less creepy and hypnotic, is far more focused and tells its tale with far few affectations, actually making it far more interesting in the process.

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Which is a pity because the first half is actually the more interesting of the two stories and sets the foundation for the second to follow. Only it doesn’t and even though both parts share the writing skills of Dennis Kelly and some common characters and themes, they are executed too inconsistently to feel coherent.

Credit must go to Law who does his best trying to portray the troubled character of Sam. Sam is a character whose good nature is soured by some rather poor behaviour that leaves you questioning his sanity and the believability of his story the entire time. Law plays the role with incredible vigour and comes across as convicted, bold and confused as his character needs to be at certain parts of the story. As for Harris, she fills up her story amicably though her character is far more straightforward to work with. The series also stars the likes of Katherine Waterston, John Dalgleish, Mark Lewis Jones, Paddy Considine, and Emily Watson among others. They are all talented actors but can’t do enough to make you care much for their largely forgettable characters.

The Third Day Review – A cultic mystery that gets lost in its own craziness 10

The Third Day is filled with many bold ideas, but with some silly story elements and inconsistent execution, it leaves you wishing that it could’ve been so much better. In the end, its drama is underwhelming, its mystery not fully realised, and the horror and tension not really delivered on.

The Third Day debuts on DStv and Showmax this week with episodes arriving weekly and the show available for full bingeing from mid-January.

Last Updated: December 10, 2020

The Third Day
The Third Day is filled with some promising and bold ideas but gets sidetracked by a silly story, ridiculous characters and inconsistent execution
6.0

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