"Mostly, The Third Day is a structurally souped-up cautionary tale about contemporary people dabbling in pagan traditions and the unescapable islands where they do so. You, dear reader, know better than I do if that's a lesson you still require," Daniel Fienberg says of the HBO limited series starring Jude Law and Naomie Harris from creators Felix Barrett and Dennis Kelly. "Although it's made fairly watchable by several strong star turns and some lovely visuals, the fiction in The Third Day proves far less interesting than the verifiable history, layering on one unsurprising genre twist after another with almost no real visceral impact," says Fienberg, adding: "You know the drill, whether your frame of reference is The Wicker Man or Midsommar or any of several titles in which someone wanders into a seemingly normal town and quickly begins to realize that everything is just a wee bit catawampus. In the process of becoming entranced by the mystery of a place he darned well could have walked out of safely countless times, Sam becomes caught in a web that blends fundamentalism, an illusion of benign mundanity and his own repressed suffering. And if that sounds a bit like the first and second episodes of Lovecraft Country, this indeed isn't perfect timing for The Third Day, because HBO already has at least one better show upending this formula right now."
The Third Day seems rather prophetic, having been filmed in summer 2019: "Strip away the sociopolitical resonance of its premise, and The Third Day remains an atmospheric treat with plenty of dazzling imagery—a surreal sequence in which Jude Law’s character takes LSD during a local festival and starts wandering in the forest will recall the trippy climax of Midsommar in the best (and most unsettling) possible way," says Miles Surrey, adding: "Still, watching The Third Day, it’s hard not to linger on all the symbols—and not just the creepy markings etched onto the island’s caves or its pseudo-Christian-pagan church. Here’s a place where brutal, antiquated beliefs are pushed to their breaking point; stern conviction morphing into denialism and self-destruction. With all that happens heading into the end of the series—only five of the six episodes were made available in advance—it’s safe to label the inhabitants of Osea Island a death cult. That ideology ought to feel familiar as well: after all, we’re living with one."
The Third Day works best as a religious fever dream: "The Third Day offers a clear, cohesive narrative, but 'Summer' director Marc Munden makes it enticing to question that reality," says Ben Travers. "Fish-eye lenses, warped perspectives, and eerie images — Are they dreams? Are they hallucinations? Are they real? — give viewers just enough of a kick to reconsider Sam’s adventure outside each literal step. While you may guess where the story is going, especially the biggest “twists,” what the limited series has to say about religions preying upon the weak vs. comforting the grieving is a more provocative question to consider."
The Third Day is a stunning showcase for Jude Law: "Law, a classically handsome movie star who’s been one of the most fascinating actors alive since coming to TV for the title role in Paolo Sorrentino’s deeply bizarre HBO drama The Young Pope, is the perfect choice to play a character that contains multitudes," says Judy Berman, adding: "The third day of this adventure—as chronicled in an episode for which Law’s disoriented, often solo and silent performance, deserves an Emmy nomination—truly is a doozy."
The Third Day merges TV and theater to become something else entirely: “With TV it can be big and broad and you’ve got visual FX and you can take things to a place that you never could in a live environment,” says co-creator Felix Barrett. “You can cover more space, more time and you can have a pace and a quality and a sort of frenzy that is harder to get live. With live, it’s tactile, it’s real and the audience are present so they’re part of it and I think that sense of actually being wrapped up in an event is unsurpassable.”