I’m not a huge horror person. I’m willing to hang in there for things I know are culturally important, and I’m very good at happily browsing for new duvet covers on a separate screen whenever something terrifying is obviously about to happen. Still, one of the things I find utterly perplexing about most horror stories is when the characters make ridiculous, indefensible choices. Choices like going down to the dark, haunted house basement by themselves. Choices like, in the case of the new HBO drama The Third Day, willingly driving onto a clearly creepy island and then — for some reason! — not leaving.
As a result, I spent most of The Third Day watching in agony as the main character Sam (played by Jude Law), drives out to the most nightmarish, unnerving, creepy-ass island anyone has ever seen and then doesn’t leave immediately. While I watched screeners of the first five episodes, the first episode on its own has plenty of red flags. The most obvious stuff comes later, but even here there are events that should’ve sent this man screaming back to the mainland.
Here, then, is a rundown of all events in the first episode of The Third Day where I (or any sane person) would’ve muttered “oh absolutely not,” and left forever.
1) The opening event of the series. Jude Law kneels, weeping, in front of a lovely babbling brook. He’s listening to Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” He stands up, sees some movement, and then discovers a teenage girl in the nearby woods. The teenage girl hangs herself, Jude Law rescues her, and then she asks him to take her to the island.
I’m highly dubious that I or anyone would’ve said, “Oh sure, I won’t take you to a hospital! I will take you to a remote island instead!” Maybe, I guess. But that leads us to …
2) The second I saw the causeway. If, somehow, I was convinced that I should take this teen girl home instead of getting her immediate medical attention, one look at the causeway out to her creepy island might’ve given me pause. The island is called Osea, and the only way to get on and off is to drive across this narrow causeway that’s only accessible at low tides. I have seen disaster movies. I know about climate change. I think there’s a good chance the causeway alone would’ve made me too nervous. It’s kind of pretty, I suppose? Maybe a good Instagram photo? So maybe I’d at least drive out there and tell myself I was immediately turning around.
3) That freaky dead cricket full of beetles. While waiting for the causeway to open, Jude Law sees an enormous, colorful cricket. He steps on it to squash it, and a horde of tiny black beetles come streaming out of the cricket corpse. If you’re already on the fence about this whole island situation, that’s surely the point where you rethink things, right? SURELY. But no, Jude Law is determined to get onto this island.
4) The eerie sense of familiarity. While driving onto the island, Jude Law is overwhelmed by the feeling he’s been there before. In The Third Day, this is a reason for him to allay his fears and continue ahead. Which makes sense, I guess. Even if I’d have been similarly comforted by how familiar it felt, though, the first thing he sees on the island would’ve really put me off.
5) Those giant festival puppets. This is my own personal blind spot, and I’m willing to admit it. When Jude Law first drives onto the island, the teen girl he’s rescued points out some villagers holding enormous, uncanny man and woman puppets. You can only see them from a distance, and it’s hard to see what choreography they’re practicing. But the girl explains that it’s from an ancient island ritual, an annual holiday they celebrate as a big festival.
Should the festival puppets turn you off? Yes. Should Jude Law have seen them and thought, Huh, maybe I won’t stick around for the ancient festival? Yes. But this is the one thing that truly did make sense to me in this episode. I love an ancient festival. I love a weird geographically specific ritual, love historical reenactors, love a procession, love odd and inexplicable local traditions. I’m disappointed in myself, but once I saw the puppets I would’ve convinced myself to give the creepy island a shot.
6) The photos of dead people on the pub walls. Jude Law wanders into the island’s pub, and the walls are decorated with old, cracked photos that might just be in bad shape? But they definitely look like they’re photos of corpses. It’s an unpleasant vibe! Probably not enough to convince me to leave the festival, though.
7) No cell service. Oh wow you guys have got a festival going on? Wow, cool! Lemme just Google the … huh. Oh, you say there’s … no cell service? Not all weekend? You’re not sure when it’ll be back? No one’s got any Wi-Fi or … huh. Okay, well, great to see you, BYE!
8) Everyone is secretly fighting about something. Eventually, although I would surely have left by this point, Jude Law is still there and picks up on the sense that all the villagers are talking about something when they think he can’t hear. And they do not seem happy! There’s a lot of whispering, some intense shouting, and a few major arguments.
As much as I love a good festival, I loathe feeling awkwardly unwelcome. I am from the American Midwest. We are a reserved, socially restrained people. The faintest sense that my presence somewhere was making someone uncomfortable, or that they did not want me? I would’ve been off that island so fast. GONE! I would’ve written them an apologetic note afterwards, too. “Hope the festival went well! Good luck with the alarming cricket-and-beetle problem! Let me know if you need someone to call Verizon about your cell service problem!”
9) The ritually sacrificed rodent. At this point, whether Jude Law should flee the island has become moot. The causeway has flooded again as the tide comes in, so Jude Law is now forced to wait it out until the road opens the next day. While he realizes this, standing out on the windy bluffs near the causeway entrance, he looks down and finds a dead rodent. Not just any dead rodent. A dead rat (probably?) whose belly has been sliced open, and its vital organs carefully (lovingly??) displayed on small rocks arranged around the body.
Sometimes I’ve wondered about Satanic ritual setups. So often they’re some combination of candles/salt/sticks/a circle/a sacrifice, and sometimes you look at them and think, Maybe someone just set up a little campsite or something? Maybe an animal did it?
But this is, and I don’t mind saying it, one of the most obvious ritual-sacrifice setups I’ve seen. That rat just screams, “I gave my life to fulfill an ancient promise to the island gods who are dissatisfied with the actions of man, and whose appetites have now been quieted but not fully quelled.” Maybe Jude Law can’t leave at this point. He didn’t take his chance after the festival puppets and the no cell service, and now he’s stuck for the night.
If this were me, though, I would drive my car up to the causeway entrance, climb inside, lock the door, and refuse to open it or speak to anyone until I could get myself off that damn island the next day. No question. The end. Jude Law does not take my advice, though! He stays on the island, insistent on figuring out what the deal is with these strange people. Good luck to him! Couldn’t be me!