Pop Culturing: Jude Law & Naomi Harris Star in HBO's Tedious Cult Thriller 'The Third Day'

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday September 14, 2020

Jude Law in a scene from "The Third Day."
Jude Law in a scene from "The Third Day."  (Source:Liam Daniel/HBO)

"The Wicker Man," the 1973 horror film by Robin Hardy, has basically created a genre of its own: A protagonist who has experienced trauma travels to a remote and closed-off idyllic location only to learn not everything appears as it seems. Most notably, the 2019 daylight horror film "Midsommar" was the latest film inspired by "The Wicker Man," earning a big box office, critical acclaim and spawning memes. So, "The Third Day," a miniseries coming to HBO Monday created by Dennis Kelly and Felix Barrett, comes to audiences who may be experiencing cult fatigue.

The new drama stars Jude Law as Sam, a frumpy man somewhere on the U.K. coast, and begins with him saving a young girl from hanging herself in the woods. She won't explain why she tried to kill herself and he drives her back to her home, which happens to be on the remote island Osea. It's only accessible a few hours a day as the tide rises and blocks off the road that connects it to the mainland. It doesn't take long before you connect the dots: The people on Osea Island are seemingly normal but direction from Marc Munden and a script by Kelly quickly make it known that something is off here. Sam, suffering from a tragedy of his own, is desperate to get off the island. But annoyances keep him around (his car gets blocked and the "helpful" residents can't seem to find the dude with the bad parking habit). Before Sam knows it, the tide has covered the road, making it in impossible for him to leave Osea.

Paddy Considine, left, and Emily Watson, right in a scene from "The Third Day. Photo credit: Liam Daniel/HBO

While stuck on the island, he meets Jess (Katherine Waterston), an American visiting the island and they quickly learn of the residents' religious ways, though Mrs. Martin (Emily Watson), who has piercing green eyes and runs the local inn where Sam is staying with her husband Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine), would tell you that they are Christians who happen to have some odd traditions. Here, "The Third Day" succeeds, crafting an interesting world of belief that may or may not include Jack the Ripper. The show is fictional but some of its lore is based in reality — and Osea really exists!

The first three episodes of "The Third Day" follow Sam's journey to the island, and it's a tedious experience that offers very few punches. It's good to see Law in an unglamorized role — in his last HBO appearance, he played the super sexy Lenny Belardo in "The Young Pope." Here, he's more subtle than the over-the-top Trumpian pontiff but is nevertheless just as captivating in the role of a grieving father. But the show falls trap to prestigious TV hallmarks that have become cloying (dark cinematography, slow pacing, piercing music).

What might set "The Third Day" apart is that it is split up into two stories. The first three episodes center around Sam during his visit to Osea during the summer and the latter three episodes (directed by Philippa Lowthorpe) follow a woman named Helen ("Moonlight" star Naomi Harris) and her three children who go to the island during the winter. There will be another episode called "Autumn" that will be a live broadcast (though it's unclear how it will proceed as it was designed in a pre-COVID world) and likely connect to the two stories.

Naomi Harris in "The Third Day." Photo credit: Liam Daniel/HBO

When Helen arrives to Osea with her children for a celebratory getaway, it's the start of winter and things are quite different on the island. Unlike their treatment of Sam, the locals are rude to Helen and her family, where she's told she and her girls can't stay in the room she booked for them online. We see different parts of the island; like an abandoned construction site with creepy drawings are spray-painted on walls. Like the first half of the show, Lowthorpe keeps up the atmospheric and creepy albeit slow pace of "The Third Day."

The miniseries might have more to offer when its unconventional live broadcast airs but "The Third Day" plods along telling a familiar story. There are some genuinely creepy moments; fans of this "Wicker Man" genre ought to thoroughly enjoy the show and getting to the bottom of its core mystery.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.