TIFF 2020 Review: ‘The Third Day’ Delivers Two Sides of a Strange Tale

User Rating: 6

As seasons change, our perceptions of the world around us create paradigm shifts. A place or moment can take on entirely different meanings in these altered states and the world may feel foreign as a result. While metaphor can be helpful to explain the world, it can also be difficult to rely on these perceptions to describe our surroundings. HBO‘s latest series, The Third Day combines mysticism and metaphor. The resulting fever dream is both compelling and disorienting in its artistic flourishes.

The Third Day comes from the mind of Dennis Kelley. The veteran of British TV and stage has created several beloved properties, including Utopia and Matilda: The Musical. Cashing in on the success of each show, he lets his latest series turn into a mind-bending trip from the word go. The Third Day features two intertwined narratives, split into groups of three episodes. With stars anchoring each half, The Third Day relies on mystery to set itself apart in a crowded TV landscape.

The first half follows a man named Sam (Jude Law). Sam finds himself on the wrong side of financial crime. Someone is robbing him while he’s stuck on the side of the road, and he wanders into the woods to clear his head. He stumbles upon a girl in the woods, and proceeds to save her from hanging herself. After taking her back to her nearby island town, he becomes stranded in the town bar as the town celebrates rituals in costumes. He stumbles into a young lady (Katherine Waterston) living staying in the hotel, who is just as mysterious as the rest of the island.

The second story follows a mother, Helen (Naomie Harris), attempting to get away from the world for a weekend. Accompanied by her daughters Ellie (Nico Parker) and Talulah (Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell), the family is denied from their Air Bnb and left stranded on the island. As night approaches, the island becomes a far more dangerous and frightening location for the young family.

The split between the two storylines does not end with the differences in characters. In fact, the townspeople remain the same on each side of the story, with Paddy Considine and Emily Watson standing out. However, the entire visual aesthetic of the two islands feels different. To emphasize the divide, the series shot with entirely different directors and cinematographers.  Directed by Marc Munden, the Sam (Law) storyline features more handi-cam and feels like a Malik film. Etherial and odd, Law’s enigmatic reactions feel at home with the visuals of the series.

This shifts as Philippa Lowthorpe steps behind the camera. Her time with Helen (Harris) and her girls is far more controlled. The camera finds itself more stationary but communicates worrying power dynamics between its characters through angles and storytelling. The Lowthorpe aesthetically resembles American television, while Munden takes his characters on an independent film adventure. Another driving force is the season in which each story occurs. Sam’s story takes place in Summer and constitutes episodes one through three. Meanwhile, Helen’s story occupies episodes five through seven. A special live episode is planned in the UK, but it is unclear if it will be made available for American audiences.

Having seen an episode of each narrative, the story of The Third Day seems quite compelling. However, the Law-led half of the season will be undeniably more metaphysical and spiritual in tone than Harris’ half. Leading with Law’s might be a requirement, but it may open the series to criticism early. Audiences who stick with the series will find a provocative story awaiting them.


Written by
Alan French has been writing about TV and entertainment awards for more than five years. He joined AwardsCircuit in 2016, where he became a Rotten Tomatometer-approved critic. He has also written for WeBoughtABlog, 1428 Elm, and InsideTheMagic. He's interviewed directors, actors, and craft teams from Stranger Things, The Good Place, Atlanta, and more. He holds a Masters in Mass Communication from the University of Central Florida and two Bachelors degrees from Florida State University. When he’s not watching movies, he’s usually at one of Florida’s theme parks.

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