Daniel de la Vega’s On the Third Day, co-written by Alberto Fasce and Gonzalo Ventura, begins with three separate lives intersecting on a dark, lonely stretch of highway in the middle of the night. Cecilia (Mariana Anghileri) is on the run from someone, or something, with her young son Martín (Octavio Belmonte) asleep in the backseat. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Enrique (Gerardo Romano) is tasked with transporting a package to Santa Cruz, a wooden crate which has been wrapped tight with thick chains and is shaped suspiciously like a makeshift coffin. As Cecilia speeds down the road, she spots Lucia (Veronica Intile) on the shoulder, her car broken down. As she contemplates stopping to assist this stranger, her car drifts into the other lane and is broadsided by Enrique’s truck. After a cut to black, Cecilia wakes up in an abandoned building, stumbles outside, and realizes that three days have passed since the accident. Just what exactly happened to Cecilia during this prolonged blackout, the now unknown whereabouts of Martin, and what has escaped from Enrique’s crate make up the backbone of this Argentinian horror-thriller, which tiptoes around its central mystery while gradually introducing the possibility of a supernatural occurrence. Could Cecilia possibly have killed her own child?
Doctor Hernan Pastori (Lautaro Delgado) doesn’t seem to think so. He checks Cecilia into the hospital and reassures her that the police are doing everything they can to find Martin. But Inspector Ricardo Ventura (Osvaldo Santoro) is more skeptical, a lifetime of hunting down criminals having exhausted any benefit of the doubt he might extend to a suspect. The plot thickens when Cecilia’s ex-husband Fernando (Diego Cremonesi) storms into the hospital, demanding to know where his son is. Suddenly, there’s another suspect; surely this bullheaded man with a violent temper seems a more likely culprit than the damaged Cecilia.
De la Vega and cinematographer Mariano Suarez are borrowing heavily from the Giallo playbook here, particularly Argento and Fulci, with a dash of De Palma flair. They make heavy use of mirrors, as Cecilia sees flashes of Martin’s red hoodie all around her (echoes of Don’t Look Now are clearly intended), as well as freeze frames, smash cuts, and slow-motion zooms. It keeps things lively, even if the film is nowhere near as colorful (or as outrageously violent) as its more obvious stylistic antecedents. It’s a beautiful looking film, with precise framing that never becomes antiseptic (a far too common occurrence in our present era of “elevated horror”). Eventually, Cecilia escapes the hospital, and with Oastori’s assistance, makes her way to a hypnotist. A long flashback ensues, filling in the details of who Cecilia and Martin were fleeing and why, as well as conclusively answering the question of any supernatural influence on the proceedings. Concurrently, Enrique, revealed to be a rogue priest of some sort, has dragged poor Lucia back to his home and proceeds to dispose of her corpse in a very specific, ritualized manner. It’s all very creepy, and a lot of fun, at least until the final reel, where the various narrative threads and compounding mysteries have to come together and finally start revealing some answers. On the Third Day doesn’t wind up exactly where you think it’s going, but whether or not its big reveal works will surely be up for debate amongst audience members. Still, it’s got a final gut punch up its sleeves that really lands, and the lead performance by Mariana Anghileri is truly remarkable. On the Third Day isn’t perfect by any means, but it leaves a mark.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2021 — Dispatch 6.