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The Third Day is a tasty surreal horror fantasy


Creators Dennis Kelly (Utopia, Pulling) and Felix Barrett helm this TV miniseries about a mysterious island inhabited by a cultish group of people. Told in two distinct storylines of three episodes each, the first set follows the journey of Sam (Jude Law), a father grieving over the loss of his murdered son. The second set, of which only the first episode has been released, follows Helen (Naomie Harris) and her two daughters—Ellie (Nico Parker) and Talulah (Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell)—who arrive on the island and find themselves facing hostility from the locals. (six 60-min. episodes)

DESPERATE TIMES Sam (Jude Law) finds himself trapped on an island inhabited by some sort of pagan cult as they prepare for an annual festival, in HBO's The Third Day. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PLAN B ENTERTAINMENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Plan B Entertainment
  • DESPERATE TIMES Sam (Jude Law) finds himself trapped on an island inhabited by some sort of pagan cult as they prepare for an annual festival, in HBO's The Third Day.

Glen We've only seen the first three episodes, and the best way to describe them is The Wicker Man (1973) meets Midsommar (2019) as directed by Tony Scott. Filmed in surreal hyper-saturated colors, it's visually arresting. And like the two films mentioned, there's a dark mystery at the center, and Sam seems to be integral to some pagan ritual. The island is a character unto itself—it has a causeway that's only accessible from the mainland when the tide is low. Naturally there's no cellphone service, and the only boat on the island is damaged. At first Sam is fascinated by the place. His father was stationed there during the war. As time goes on, and he can't seem to get off the island, things go from weird to worse. His only ally on the island is Jess (Katherine Waterson), another visitor whose motivations are unclear. Some of the islanders seem nice enough, like Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Paddy Considine and Emily Watson), while others are intensely creepy. It's drenched in atmosphere and deeply compelling.

Anna There is a whole lot of "what the hell is going on?" with this series, but the weird and mysterious atmosphere actually draws us more into the story than pushes us away from it. The first episode opens with Sam releasing a piece of children's clothing into a creek and then coming upon a chilling scene—a young girl in the act of hanging herself. He manages to save her, and when he drives her home, he is soon stuck on the island he can't seem to escape. The island and the people aren't what they seem; the weird festival they're preparing for is steeped in strangeness, and the drinks and drugs are doing no favors to keep Sam's sanity upright. It's very Midsommar—creepy and visually arresting, biblical and horrifying. I'm still not sure I've got everything that is going on worked out, but I'm excited to see how they handle the coming chapters of this fascinating series.

Glen Jude Law really digs into the role of Sam. He's broken by the loss of his son, and though we never see his wife, it's clear their relationship has been devastated. When he meets Jess, they end up drunk together. We learn she's also married but estranged from her husband, who has custody of their daughters, which he lords over her. She's got her own secrets, most importantly that she's at her husband's mercy. Nobody is quite who they portray themselves to be, not even Sam, who discovers he has a deep connection to the island. The first three episodes climax in a truly odd finale, and I'm personally excited to see where the next three go and if they're as interesting, bizarre, and well-directed as the first three. There's nothing especially original here—we've seen this type of fantasy-horror before—but if you're a fan of the genre, you're going to enjoy slipping into this oddly compelling pagan/cult series.

Anna I'm curious to see if and how the Sam storyline continues, or if perhaps the new storyline with Helen and her daughters takes a whole different turn. Either way, we know that this island and the people on it aren't to be trusted, and people don't just end up there for no reason. There's a mysterious pull to stay on the island, which Sam can't shake, even when it means putting himself back in danger. At first, we're wondering how he's going to get off the island, and that soon becomes a question of if he will even be able to get out alive. It's definitely not for everyone, but I love a bit of island mystery and drama with some cult activity thrown in. I can't wait to see where this series leads. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at


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