Oscar nominees Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes) and Naomie Harris (Moonlight) star in The Third Day, a new limited series streaming on Neon. Set on a seemingly peaceful island off the British coast, events start to play tricks on the mind of a visitor who can’t find a way out. As Tony Stamp sets out in his spoiler-free story, it’s great seeing Jude Law getting put through the wringer as the show’s mysteries come into view.
A man drives along a narrow causeway onto a secluded island. Uh oh, he’s having car trouble. Forced to stay, he winds up spending the night with the island’s inhabitants, a close-knit group who allude to local folklore and rituals. It almost seems like they’re hiding something…
Look, you probably know where this is heading. And that’s fine. The makers of the new Neon mini-series The Third Day know that you’ve seen The Wicker Man (or at least heard of it), and they have plenty of other surprises in store. The show actually makes an interesting companion piece to Midsommar (also streaming on Neon), which was similarly knowing, and as it turns out, similarly fueled by its characters’ grief.
But where that movie went for operatic maximalism, this is much more of a slow burn, with more sympathy for its characters, as visual metaphors for their inner lives dot the surroundings and sins of the past are brought to the surface. There’s gruesome imagery courtesy of some pretty gnarly dream sequences, but it mostly operates at a more grounded clip. Revelations pile up and Jude Law disappears down the rabbit hole.
Aaaaand I’ve already said too much. This is, first and foremost, a mystery show, which means writing about it feels a bit like tip-toeing across a minefield, but let’s forge ahead.
The show starts in situ with Law’s car troubles, and proceeds to follow him for an episode per day (which yes, means we reach the titular day by ep three). We learn more about his character Sam and how he came to be in this situation, and we learn a lot more about the island of Osea.
There’s a whiff of parable to these early scenes, as we run through a series of encounters between Sam and the locals that are drawn in bold strokes, teetering on surrealism and undercut by our lack of knowledge about both place and person. Because our point of reference is Sam, and he’s a bit of a mystery himself, I found myself grappling with how ‘real’ this was all supposed to be.
Frequent bird’s eye views of the island keep driving home how alone our protagonist is. We see him as a tiny speck surrounded by an endless, ominous ocean.
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If you’ve ever travelled out of London you’ll know it’s a surprisingly fast journey between leaving the city and entering the countryside, so this feeling of being so close to civilisation yet so cut off from it is pretty relatable. In one scene he’s trapped on the island after missing the cutoff time for the causeway, and heads to the beach. The city lights of London are just a small distance away over the ocean, taunting him.
Another British show that might spring to mind is The Prisoner, a cult classic also set on an island, featuring a male protagonist who’s perpetually confused. As the series progresses and its larger story refracts into view, you may be reminded of Lost, likewise island-bound and intrigue-fueled.
I gotta be honest, it’s great seeing Jude Law getting put through the wringer. He’s really good at it! In recent years he seems to have shied away from traditional leading man roles at approximately the same rate as his hairline has receded, and his career is all the better for it. This is a great, physical performance where he really gets down and dirty.
And the entire cast is stacked. At a certain point we’re introduced to Naomie Harris and her two children, who [spoiler] and are [spoiler] to [spoiler]. There’s also token American Katherine Waterston as a tourist in love with the island’s traditions, and Emily Watson as a humorously foul-mouthed b&b operator (onscreen, Brits really love throwing around the C-word eh, it’s like they’re flaunting how casual it is for them compared to Americans). Her husband is played by Paddy Considine, whose presence brings to mind Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, another story about an isolated community who may or may not be up to mischief.
With a cast list like that it almost goes without saying that performances across the board are fantastic, but The Third Day really puts them through their paces, subverting what we might expect from characters who, on paper, wouldn’t be too out of place in, say, the pub at the start of An American Werewolf in London.
It turns out that Osea is actually a real place that is, yes, driveable from London. It’ll be interesting to see what the locals make of their portrayal here. I can only imagine the tourism board has been contacted? The show didn’t film on location, maybe for good reason. Sweden’s reaction to Midsommar was amusingly po-faced, so let’s hope for something similar.
The Third Day draws on the real world in other ways too—Osea is dotted with Sheela na gigs—remarkably graphic ones in fact. They’re one of many clues dotted throughout which point to what exactly might be going on. After watching the five episodes provided to reviewers, I will say there’s plenty left to ponder. Right up to its end the show has plenty of aces up its sleeve.
Its structure is notable too. Once we reach that third day the series refracts and folds in on itself in ways I won’t spoil. Interesting to note too that directorial duties were split down gender lines, with Marc Munden handling one half and Philippa Lowthorpe the other. Yes, this is significant to the plot and no I can’t tell you why.
If like me you’re a sucker for a good mystery, you’ll find plenty to savour in this immersive, thoroughly well-made show.