Daniel de la Vega’s On the 3rd Day is a slipshod tangle of horror subgenres that prays with clasped hands for something to stick. Writers Alberto Fasce and Gonzalo Ventura take a simplistic inciting incident and overcomplicate a narrative structure with flashbacks, split perspective storytelling and an incessant desire to keep shifting gears. Theological influences abound given the film’s title—a reference to Jesus’ resurrection—and yet it’s hardly taut religious pandemonium. On the 3rd Day never coheres, it’s just Halloween Mad Libs trying to fake its way through an actual start-to-finish storyline.
Cecilia Amato (Mariana Anghileri) has chosen to flee her abusive ex with her son Martin (Octavio Belmonte). She drives towards salvation, but tragedy strikes when Cecilia collides with Padre Enrique (Gerardo Romano): Something escapes from his truck’s now-busted trunk. Cecilia awakens in the hospital three days later with no memory of the accident’s aftermath, yet must locate her missing child. Martin is somewhere out there, and so is whatever Enrique was transporting as a messenger of God.
The first source of frustration related to On the 3rd Day isn’t even script related, it’s spoken words. Unfortunately, the screener for critics only offers dubbed audio and no subtitles. So this review considers the atrocious ADR voice acting that miscalculates tone, energy and vocal realism. At best, dubbed audio doesn’t harm the watching experience—here, it’s an inescapable distraction. Elderly characters are given cartoonish tenors that enunciate out of tempo with their moving mouths. A lack of enthusiasm sets a precedent like voice actors are stuffily reading off a teleprompter with no preparation, yanking us out of key moments. That’s a significant strike-one stumble out of the gate.
And On the 3rd Day never rights itself as Cecilia attempts to piece together her amnesiac puzzle. Hospital physicians, prowling investigators and Padre Enrique are Cecilia’s adversaries—her only path to enlightenment relies on a mentalist’s aid to unlock memories. De la Vega’s grasp on these moving parts—as Martin’s safety remains a question—becomes scattershot, jumping from gruesome murders to blasphemous creatures to random side characters without context. We’re able to gather that mirrors are essential and whatever Enrique accidentally unleashes is an unholy beast, but that’s about all. Execution does not meet ambition as its crashing subgenres cause a messier wreck than the actual vehicular damage left after Enrique sends Cecilia’s four-wheeler flying.
There’s something so baffling about an inherently straightforward premise that’s needlessly hacked into chunks. Enrique gets all chemistry-class gross when disposing of a stranded witness’ body, Cecilia encounters a harbinger of death and a basement’s bright red door leads to a shocking classic monster—but there’s no command over plot fluidity to bring all these highlights together. Cecilia battles grief, traumatic hurdles and other real demons before supernatural elements even appear, yet On the 3rd Day fumbles its backward storytelling approach like a grease-coated football. Not to mention, the effects: Dead bodies favor the macabre while undead costumes and makeup aren’t sold as masterworks. The horror scares are as ineffective as the voice actors in sound booths.
On the 3rd Day disappoints across all promised fronts. Pastors recite biblical passages out of desperation, but there’s never a comprehensively catastrophic bastardization of religion. Daniel de la Vega takes Christopher Nolan’s Memento route to liven what could be just another damned few nights. And yet? Alternative storytelling structures only obscure and disassociate what should be a dreadful confrontation of motherhood’s greatest fears. For Jeepers Christ, dialogue can’t even exit mouths without making us cringe, because we know there’s a better version somewhere—with subtitles—that might make the otherwise unintentionally laughable or out-of-body line reads vastly more tolerable. On the 3rd Day barely summons a rise and probably should have just stayed at rest.
Director: Daniel de la Vega
Writer: Alberto Fasce, Gonzalo Ventura
Starring: Mariana Anghileri, Octavio Belmonte, Gerardo Romano
Release Date: July 7, 2022 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.