Folk horror is alive and well. Before Ari Aster’s Midsommar in 2019, we also had the buddy trip turned pagan nightmare The Ritual in 2017, The Witch in 2015, and classics like Witch Finder General in 1968, and of course, the 1973 The Wicker Man, among others. Now you can add another sinister village to that list as executive producer Felix Barrett and Dennis Kelly, writer of the brilliant series Utopia (2013-14), brings us the suspenseful mini-series The Third Day.
It’s summer, and Sam (Jude Law) is on his way to the forest for some time by himself due to a tragedy, but he gets an urgent call from his wife. They’ve been robbed, and he’s worried a large sum of money might be missing. A disturbing incident finds him helping a young girl and taking her home to her remote village only accessible by a causeway when the tide is low. When they arrive, the village is preparing for its annual festival with giant puppets and costumes. Sam soon learns the village is unique and feels a strange déjà vu, but he must get back to London to deal with the robbery before the tide comes in.
Helen (Naomie Harris) wants to spend some quality time with her daughters Ellie (Nico Parker) and Lulu (Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell). They arrive at the same village just as winter sets in, and the roads are filled with garbage, the building walls covered with odd graffiti, and people are leaving town in tears. Her plans are quashed when the cottage she booked becomes strangely unavailable, and the townspeople are uncooperative and consistently tell her to leave. Determined to celebrate Ellie’s birthday, she looks for a place for them to stay and witnesses some scary moments, thinks her car is stolen and must figure out how to get back home before the causeway is flooded again.
Both Helen and Sam are driven by secrets, and being on the island only makes their conscience work overtime. Who are these villagers? Why are their traditions so important? And why are there so many disturbing symbols spread throughout the town? The writing team of Dennis Kelly, Den O’Loughlin, and Kit de Waal all create a great sense of uneasiness, and one can’t help yelling at the screen for the characters to get out of the village. That’s the frustrating part, but it also heightens the dread of events around the corner.
Even though a creepy rural town with odd inhabitants has been done before, I’m hoping for mind-bending reveals as the show progresses, defying the often trod The Wicker Man territory. The cast is tried and true with British star power in Law, Harris, Emily Watson, and Paddy Considine, who play the town’s all-knowing pub owners, but the real surprise is Parker, a clone of her famous mother, Thandie Newton. The young actor proves her skill and can only get better as she gets older.
HBO always brings a good game to the TV series roster, and The Third Day seems to be an intriguing addition. See it when it airs on Sep 14.
Check out the Toronto International Film Festival from Sep 10-20, 2020.