On the 3rd Day (Al Tercer Día) is the latest film from Argentinian filmmaker Daniel de la Vega who’s other films include Necrophobia 3D and The White Coffin with which this shares a few thematic elements. Although not somewhere that comes to mind when you think of horror films, Argentina has a history of genre cinema that includes the grindhouse favourites The Curious Dr. Humpp and Snuff as well as more recent films such as Francesca and The Funeral Home.
Enrique (Gerardo Romano, The Summit, Hypersomnia) receives a call directing him to deliver something to Santa Cruz for what, God willing, will be the last time. Down in his cellar we see the item, a large wooden box wrapped in chains. Cecilia (Mariana Anghileri, Dead Man Tells His Own Tale) is getting her young son Martin (Octavio Belmonte) ready for a car trip. Their vehicles collide.
Three days later Cecilia wakes up in the remains of a strange building with no idea what happened during that time. Martin is nowhere to be found. Taken to hospital she’s accused of kidnapping the boy by his father Fernando (Diego Cremonesi, Dead End) and suspected by Inspector Ventura (Osvaldo Santoro, Moebius) in another disappearance that occurred that night, she flees the hospital to find her son. Her only help coming from Dr. Hernán (Lautaro Delgado, Kryptonite).
If you are at all familiar with horror, written or filmed, you’ll probably figure out what’s behind On the 3rd Day’s mystery within the first fifteen minutes. But that’s not a reason to turn it off, that’s just part of a multilayered plot that is fascinating to watch unfold. And still has a nasty surprise waiting at the end.
Most of On the 3rd Day’s midsection is an extended hypnosis session as one of Dr. Hernán’s colleagues tries to unlock Cecilia’s memories of the missing days. This is partially cross cut with scenes of Enrique doing some interrogating of his own. Beautifully, and chillingly shot, it fills in just enough of the details to set us up, but not prepare us for what’s to come in the last act.
It was also during this sequence that I noticed something interesting about the film and technology. On the 3rd Day is set in the present and we see characters using cell phones, but lots of people, even ones who could afford a smartphone, still use landlines. There’s also other outdated technology, like a reel to reel tape recorder still in use. Almost as if it was a reflection of ancient beliefs and even older creatures still present in this age of science.
On the 3rd Day is anchored by two strong performances. One from Anghileri as a woman who goes through the gamut of emotions and physical states as she struggles to find her son. The other from Romano who becomes the physical manifestation of the phrase world weary, heavy emphasis on weary, as he forces himself to go about his tasks. They keep our attention on the story even after the heads start literally rolling.
Praise should also go to cinematographer Mariano Suárez (Blood Brothers, Terrified) who gives the film a darkly atmospheric look with unexpected flashes of beauty. The score is by Luciano Onetti, who is known more for directing films like What the Waters Left Behind and Abrakadabra than as a composer. At times it sounds like it was taken from an old Omen or Exorcist clone and fits the film well.
On the 3rd Day will have a virtual screening on Mon August 23 at 7:30 PM as part of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. You can check the film’s page for information on how to get a ticket.