Fantasia 2021: On the Third Day Review
In the dead of night, a woman races along a lonely road, desperately trying to get her son as far away from her abusive ex-husband as she can. Her attention slips from the road ahead for just a moment too long, and she crashes into an oncoming car and loses consciousness. Three days later she awakens in a hospital, her son missing and her memories of that night fractured. She sets out to find her son and discover the truth of what happened, though the truth is darker than she’s prepared for. Daniel de la Vega’s spooky, suspenseful and visually enchanting On the Third Day is just the latest in a long line of excellent South American horror films, a wonderfully atmospheric effort that comes strongly recommended for horror fans.
While the film’s climax definitely needs a mention, the big thing it has going for it is atmosphere. Though devoid of anything as overt as a crumbling castle or swooping bats, the film conjures a distinctly gothic atmosphere through things as simple as lighting, camera work and sound. It’s wonderfully stylish at times, employing old-school touches like sudden zooms and superimposed imagery, making it reminiscent of classic works like those of Jacques Tournier or Mario Bava. There’s also a nice Don’t Look Now homage, which is always welcome. Keeping to a slow-burn pace, the film slowly ramps up to its finale and gradually ramps up the horror elements as it goes, ratcheting up the suspense an inch at a time.
Then the third act happens, and this is either where the film will lose people or suddenly pique their interest. Without getting into spoilers, the true nature of the circumstances surrounding the crash that flipped heroine Cecilia’s life upside down does much the same for the film. What was previously hinted at, is suddenly revealed and the pace dramatically quickens in the closing scenes. Blood starts flying in greater abundance, and the horror that was creeping just out of frame suddenly takes center stage. To some, this could feel like a betrayal of the subtle(ish), slow-burn atmosphere the film was building up until this point. To others, it could be the point at which the film finally pays off on that buildup. Whether you’re disappointed that the film suddenly became more obvious or happy that things finally started to happen depends on your patience levels and just how much you get out of atmosphere alone.
Because it must be said, while the film definitely has style and atmosphere, the rest is really just ‘ok’. Protagonist Cecilia is fine, but one-note, and the helpful doctor and grizzled detective who are aiding and pursuing her respectively, feel fairly flat and one-dimensional. There’s not a ton in the way of subtext or deeper meaning, and though serviceable, the special effects aren’t much to write home about. The film is carried mostly by visuals, ambiance and the sudden acceleration that occurs in the final act – which again may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
That being said, On the Third Day is a really fun time for those looking for a horror film that evokes some of the best of its predecessors in the genre, and has just enough bite to stand alongside its contemporaries.