[Fantasia 2021 Review] 'On the Third Day' is an Eerie Whirlwind of Unexpected Horror
Sometimes, a film surprises you with so many unexpected turns that it can feel like you’re Dorothy trapped in a whirlwind and headed far, far away from what you thought you knew…
…On The 3rd Day, from director Daniel de la Vega and having just premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival, is that film.
Written by Alberto Fasce and Gonzalo Ventura, On the 3rd Day stars Mariana Anghileri as Cecilia, a mother who wakes up three days after a car crash, unaware of what happened to her son, Martin (Octavio Belmonte). Cecilia finds herself plunged into a night from hell as she searches for answers to what happened, hunted by the other driver, a priest named Enrique (Gerardo Romano), haunted by images of Martin, and a trail of dead bodies following her everywhere she goes.
Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. That’s only the half of what’s really going on in On the 3rd Day. This film is a ride.
The setup for On the 3rd Day is fairly straightforward. Following a haunting opening coupled with a skin-prickler of a score by Luciano Onetti that is so tense it’ll have you gritting your teeth, we meet Enrique, tasked with transporting something and on a collision course with Cecilia, who we learn is desperate to maintain custody of Martin from her ex-husband, Fernando (Diego Cremonesi). During the crash, the frame freezes on Cecilia and her abject terror, only for her to wake up in a field three days later, dazed and confused and eventually winding up in the hospital where she meets a doctor named Hernan (Lautaro Delgado) and Detective Ventura (Osvaldo Santoro), who, as he often says through the film, believes something doesn’t add up.
Indeed, it does not.
On the 3rd Day sucks the audience in with a riveting mystery that feels familiar to more traditional psychological horror films involving a parent searching for a missing kid. And then things get real weird, real fast.
Equal parts Don’t Look Now, Insidious, and a dash of a few I won’t mention here for fear of giving things away, Cecilia soon finds herself tormented by the ghostly image of Martin running around in a red, hooded jacket (there’s your Don’t Look Now). We discover Enrique has kidnapped a witness of the accident and is busy torturing her. And what starts as your average slow-burn suddenly explodes into a chase with Hernan and Ventura looking for an escaped Cecilia, with bodies depicting faces frozen in screams piling up and the filmmakers leaving us unaware of whether or not it’s Cecilia doing the killing. And for those that think I’m saying too much, that’s just the first fifteen or so minutes.
On the 3rd Day is the complete opposite of the patient thriller you might initially assume it is. This film soars like a pissed off bat out of Hell and barely allows time for the audience to breathe as it packs in one shocking moment after the other. It’s a bloodthirsty frightfest that sinks its teeth in and refuses to let go. Ominous whispers from a darkness that always seems to be watching, savory camerawork from Mariano Suarez that punches the audience with frightening images along with sharp jolts from Onetti’s score, and an all-around strangeness that pulls wary viewers closer, de la Vega employs the scares to great effect. On the 3rd Day is a captivating nightmare that seems to take inspiration from the likes of Wan’s films such as Insidious or The Conjuring when it comes to the look and style, but with de la Vega’s own personal frightening spices.
De la Vega’s direction here is superb, and allows On the 3rd Day to rise above some of its flaws. Even though the variety of familiar horror elements combined in ways we haven’t quite seen together before offers a horror film that is fresh and utterly blood-curdling, you could argue that there’s a little too much going on here. At a mere runtime of 84 minutes, On the 3rd Day is a busy movie, hinging itself on surprises and coming off as if it lacks confidence in those surprises to the point of throwing in various other elements to keep us guessing. All of which comes at the sacrifice of any meaningful character development.
When it comes to Cecilia, we understand just enough to relate to her and her desperation to hold onto her child, with her search working as a metaphor for the panic she feels over losing him, but that understanding hardly punctures the surface of their relationship. For a film that appears heavily influenced by the Donald Sutherland vehicle Don’t Look Now—it’s not just Martin in a red jacket. I mean come on, one character also lives on “Sutterland Street”--On the 3rd Day fails to capture the raw emotion of a parent torn apart by the loss of a child, which lessens the overall impact of Cecilia’s journey. Anghileri lures us in with a hypnotic performance that is as heartfelt as it is creepy, and Romano brings an exhausted indifference to the violence he enacts that is chilling, but both would’ve benefitted from a deeper exploration of character.
Part psychological ghost story, part intense murder mystery, and part something else, On the 3rd Day as a whole is an effective fright factory of blood-curdling terror. An overloaded narrative distracts from the most interesting parts of the story a bit, but a spooky atmosphere and a killer reveal or three along with de la Vega’s knack for spine-tingling horror left my thirst for blood more than satisfied.
By Matt Konopka
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