Considering its title and reference to the Apostles’ Creed, On the 3rd Day makes clear it’ll evoke religious horror. However, what the film does with the concept of resurrection, especially in its third act, surprises. This Shudder exclusive is the type of film that doesn’t spell everything out within the first 30 minutes. Its initial mystery is part of its allure.
On the 3rd Day starts out as a thriller about a woman trying to piece together her fragmented memories and find her missing son. However, the film escalates into some serious nightmare territory, leading to a shocking and unnerving finale. This is a bold and exciting feature from director Daniel de la Vega.
On the 3rd Day’s Set-up
The film hooks from the get-go. The story revolves around a car accident after Cecilia (Mariana Anghileri) passes a stranded female motorist. Suddenly, she’s t-boned by a truck with a coffin in the back. Weird, right? Awakening three days later in a dark basement and with no memory, Cecilia escapes, seeks help, and lands herself in a hospital. Following the crash, her young son, Martin (Octavio Belmonte), went missing, along with the stranded motorist. Whoever or whatever was in the coffin went missing too. Haunted by strange visions and premonitions, Cecilia escapes the hospital before discharge, in hopes of finding her son. She needs to determine what happened on that fateful night of the crash.
Not long into the runtime, Cecilia’s abusive ex-husband Fernando (Diego Cremonesi) re-enters her life, demanding to know what happened to their child. Though Cremonesi’s screentime is limited, he is effective. His character terrorizes the lead. There’s nothing sympathetic or redemptive about him. In one scene, he curls his hand around Cecilia’s throat, bangs her head against the wall, and issues threat after threat. No wonder she left the creep. However, like other characters, Fernando eventually goes MIA, deepening the mystery.
Another subplot focuses on police hunting a killer. They want to interview Cecilia for any clues. The only one who seems to have any idea about what’s going on is the priest, Enrique (Gerardo Romano), who drove the truck with the coffin. He also understands Cecilia’s role in it all, but that’s not revealed until the final act. It’s worth the wait. From the title, you can guess that something’s going to rise by the film’s conclusion. The priest has a gruesome endgame in mind.
Cecilia’s Fragmented Memories
It can’t be overstated how much Anghileri’s performance really carries this film. Her acting here is emotional and visceral. She manages to be tough and vulnerable, playing a character who fears her son may be dead or, at the very least, in the hands of a killer. Additionally, the way the film handles Cecilia’s fragmented memories/memory loss could be read as a smart take on trauma. Yes, Cecilia was in a car accident at the film’s opening. But it’s clear she escaped an abusive relationship. That’s why she was driving in the first place. She and her son had to flee. We only see how awful Fernando is in brief sequences, but perhaps that’s what Cecilia also blocks out, his physical and mental violence towards her.
The film also handles flashbacks well, using them to make Cecelia a fully realized character with a lot at stake. This includes a tender moment between Martin and Cecilia when they look up at the stars and name them together. It’s a reprieve from dangerous home life and Fernando’s abuse. This short scene makes Cecilia’s anxiety about her missing son more powerful. His fate remains unknown for much of the film, as his mom continually sees images of his bright red hoodie. It’s a simple, yet stark visual, a reminder of what she’s lost.
Cecilia Against Everyone Else
The film has a larger conspiracy at play, a sense that everyone’s in cahoots, placing obstacle upon obstacle before the protagonist. For instance, in the opening, Enrique talks on the phone with another man about whatever resides in the coffin. The hospital staff, meanwhile, seems mighty interested in keeping Cecilia there, whether she wants to remain or not. Later, a hypnotist pushes Cecilia deeper and deeper into painful memories, despite the doctor’s pleas for him to stop. This is yet another instance, too, where she’s held against her will, desperate to fight back and escape. Initially, all these varying narrative threads make little to no sense, until the film’s last raucous 30 minutes. The puzzle comes together.
It really gets to the point where you wonder if anyone is going to help Cecilia, other than one sympathetic doctor. No one cares to assist her, despite the anguish over her missing son. Even the cops start to wonder if she’s responsible for Martin’s disappearance and the other strange occurrences. It takes time for Cecilia to recover her memories and retrace her footsteps. The eventual twist is wholly unpredictable, pushing the film into territory that’s exhilarating and even devastating.
On the 3rd Day’s Powerful and Memorable Last Act
On the 3rd Day’s final 30 minutes really shouldn’t be spoiled here. The film brilliantly uses the concept of resurrection to conjure a rather surprising conclusion that I personally didn’t see coming. Credit must go to writers Alberto Fasce and Gonzalo Ventura. They crafted one hell of a narrative turn. Eventually, all the puzzle pieces fit, illuminating the mystery surrounding Cecilia and her missing kid. Those few days after the car crash come into focus. It’s a nasty bit of horror, too, enhanced by Anghileri’s stellar performance and ability to convey her character’s dread.
On the 3rd Day isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill genre film. Its use of religious horror is surprising and startling. There’s a villainous priest and even worse terrors waiting in the wings. Luciano Onetti’s score is nightmare-inducing, while Mariano Suarez’s cinematography is haunting. This film has an intriguing plot, tight pacing, and one heck of a performance by Anghileri. It eschews any major social commentary or heavy allegorical concepts for simple frights. Give this one a stream. It’s worth your time.
The movie comes to Shudder Today July 7. To learn more about the streaming service’s latest original and exclusive content, be sure to check out my weekly Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.