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The Third Day: An Experiment in Filmmaking

Jude Law in The Third Day. Why does he stick around?
Jude Law in The Third Day. Why does he stick around?
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You have probably never seen a show like The Third Day. The British-American drama is a co-production between HBO and its overseas counterparts, one following other successful collaborations including the critically acclaimed series I May Destroy You which premiered early this year. HBO is synonymous with “prestige TV” - their reputation invokes the expectation of the standard quality and ambitious formula of its productions.

The Third Day is not trying to fit that mold. It isn’t prestige TV and it isn’t trying to be. It’s an experiment in filmmaking and storytelling that provides a surreal experience.

The story follows Sam, played by Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Young Pope), a grief-stricken man whose world seems to be collapsing in on itself. He saves a young girl in the woods from committing suicide and takes her home to Osea. Osea is a remote island town, that is only accessible by a causeway that opens as the tide lowers and rises (comes into play quite a bit). The town and island are beautiful and instantly mysterious. Sam can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong in the town and he can’t shake the feeling that he might belong there.

The series is split into two separate chapters, Summer and Winter, each containing three episodes. Summer is the introduction to the island. It’s bright and full of mystery and beautiful and cultish imagery. Winter shows a cold and desolate place, an island community that is falling apart. The Third Day has more in common with a stage play than your standard prestige television with its set location and the variety of performances that appear on screen as well as the intermission that splits the chapters.

The setting of Osea gives the audience a look at a strange community that is holding on to the traditions that have been passed down through the generations. The mix of Christianity and pagan rituals gives Osea its distinct mystery and creepiness. The inhabitants of the island believe Osea is the center of the world where important things happen that shape events around the world. Its isolated location and difficulty leaving make it the perfect setting for a thriller and a psychological horror.

Jude Law’s performance is the driving force of the story. He is the emotional force of the narrative while also being the audience avatar. We experience the island and the mystery and all the horror through him. Sam is a complicated character with a past we don’t know every detail of, and Law plays to that emotional depth and mysteriousness well. It is implied he is mentally unstable and you can’t believe everything he says or experiences. This is a problematic aspect in regards to the narrative (more on that later), but it creates an interesting distrust between the audience and the main character that pays off in some ways and weakens the story in others.

The rest of the cast is filled with great performers including Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant, Fantastic Beasts), Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The Worlds End), and Emily Watson (Chernobyl, Punch-Drunk Love). Naomi Harris (Skyfall, Moonlight) appears in the winter chapter and much like Jude Law becomes the focal point of the series and she delivers. Harris journeys to Osea with her two daughters for vacation; they stumble into a broken and anxious island that is much different than it was just months before.

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The Third Day is a beautiful looking show. The island is beautiful and distinctive. From the beaches and the sea to the fields and forests the visuals are amazing. The two chapters show the island in different states, and the visuals shift dramatically. The island truly becomes a legitimate character.

The show is stylish and visually striking but it has its fair share of problems. Namely the plot. There is a level of suspension of disbelief that has to happen to engage in the show. There are points in the first two episodes where it’s unbelievable that Sam would continue to stay in this situation. At a certain point, you just have to believe that Sam will toss his life and family away because he’s drawn to an island for vague reasons while ignoring multiple warning signs that any person would take heed of and leave.

Somewhere, there is a version of the show that is 10 or 12 episodes that give the proper character backstory and development to make the decisions of the show’s characters make sense (the bare minimum is there). But that is not the point of the show. It’s an experiment, it isn’t aiming to explain anything and make its audience believe this could really happen. It borders on fantasy and surrealism. It wants to wrap you up in its style, mystery, and psychological horror for six hours and let you go.

Watch the Third Day on HBO and HBO Max

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