On The 3rd Day (Al Tercer Día) at Grimmfest 2021 (note that this film was based on the English dubbed version; a subtitled version of the film is also available)
Daniel de la Vega‘s previous White Coffin (Ataúd Blanco: El Juego Diabólico, 2016) began with a mother in a car with her young daughter, fleeing a violent husband, only to have to go on a desperate search when the little girl went missing. So viewers might initially be forgiven for assuming that the director is travelling down the same road in his latest, On The 3rd Day (Al Tercer Día), given its very similar opening premise: Cecilia Amato (Mariana Anghileri) takes her young son Martin (Octavio Belmonte) on a sudden road trip to get away from her demanding ex Fernando (Diego Cremonesi). The film even begins with a coffin (though not a white one), which old Enrique (Gerardo Romano) is mysteriously instructed by phone to transport to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately Cecilia’s and Enrique’s separate vehicles, with their differently motivated trajectories, are involved in a collision out on the road at night – and three days later, Cecilia awakens nearby with no memory of what has happened in the intervening time, or indeed where little Martin is.
In fact, the similarities to White Coffin will prove superficial, in a film (written by Alberto Fasce and Gonzalo Ventura) that is ruled by savvy misdirection. As the amnesiac Cecilia teams up with hospital doctor Hernán Pastori (Lautaro Delgado) and hypnotherapist Noriega (Osmar Núñez) in a frantic attempt to recover her memories and hopefully her son, and as Police Inspector Ricardo Ventura (Osvaldo Santoro) tries to determine why everyone involved in the accident – not just Cecilia, Martin and Enrique, but also another woman at the scene (Veronica Intile) – has disappeared, On The 3rd Day appears to be playing in the key of giallo. This impression is only reinforced by the shrill melodrama of Luciano Onetti‘s orchestral score, by the red-lit stylisation of Cecilia’s dream sequences, by the circling presence of several predatory figures (including the serially murderous, trophy-collecting Enrique), and even by the choice to present the film for the English-speaking viewer in a dubbed rather than subtitled version. Meanwhile, Cecilia’s strange visions of her elusive son dressed in a red raincoat represent a clear evocation of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973).
Christian motifs also dominate, whether in the crosses that decorate Enrique’s domain, or the Passion-depicting art all over Noriega’s home, while the title itself expressly refers to the number of days between the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. All these allusive signs and hints, however, are (deep) red herrings or dark reverses of the film’s reality, as de la Vega gradually closes the gap of Cecilia’s memory blackouts with a different kind of horror that, though in evidence from the start, remains well buried in his disorienting, time-shuffled narrative. A beautifully crafted wild and bumpy ride through clashing subgenres and colliding traditions, On The 3rd Day is further proof of Argentina’s status as a haven of horror.
strap: Daniel de la Vega’s amnesiac thriller offers a dizzyingly violent collision of different horror subgenres and traditions
© Anton Bitel