HBO and Sky Atlantic’s newest cult-horror miniseries boasts sublime atmospherics and mystique, carried along by exceptional performances. Jude Law and Naomi Harris star in this demonic six-part drama (currently available on NowTV) stranded on a strange land, with stranger people. When Sam (Law) rescues a young girl from the woods, he stumbles into a curious new land, just off the British coast. With the island imbued with traditional pagan culture, Sam tries to ignore that touch of eeriness in the air that lingers over the villager’s ‘hospitality’. Desperate to find signal and get home, Sam finds himself trapped on Osea Island overnight, where things start to turn a little…bizarre.
Reminiscent of films like Midsommer (dir. Ari Aster, 2019), The Third Day takes place in the histroic countryside, boldly filmed with trippy camera angles. Think The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy, 1973) on LSD. In fact, acid does make an appearance in the show, tangling Sam’s world up even more in a haze of satanic hallucinations. Though brushed with glimpses of horror, The Third Day isn’t overloaded with it. Dripping in religious imagery (Law himself looking vaguely Christ-like at one point), with a constant aura of discomfort, the show is tense and oppressing rather than full of jump-scares. Though creator Felix Barrett certainly isn’t afraid of gore, it’s the cinematography that really does the work to disquiet the audience.
Extreme close-ups, blurred frames and tilted camera shots keep viewers constantly on edge; we don’t know exactly what it is we should fear, but the cinematography tells us it’s not good. Gloomily lit and windswept, everything about Osea is course and witch-like. Unusual, psychedelic-inspired aesthetics make-up for what (albeit little) is lost from the plot. Despite our two protagonists being thoroughly developed – feeling the emotional torment of their losses – many of the characters fade into the background. That said, Emily Watson, Katherine Waterson and Paddy Considine all deliver high-calibre performances, just saving the narrative from falling short.
It’s difficult to prevent a genre as formula-reliant as horror from becoming cliché. Admittedly The Third Day leans acutely on the predictable side, but it’s creative execution and remarkable energy come to the rescue. Perhaps better suited to a feature film format, The Third Day is a twisted tale of unknown worlds, border-lining a tragedy. A poignant exploration into grief and the exploitation of mental illness, Barrett creates a taught, culture-clash thriller that never fails to shock and/or disturb.