3rd Night opens with a confusion of images: a little girl plays with a skipping rope and doll; and an adult women, her hands bound, runs terrified through moonlit trees, before her unseen pursuer brains her with a sledge hammer. This blurring of primal scene and subsequent murder, all set to the sound of a girl humming a tune and childish laughter, introduces to the viewer a film pitched somewhere between giallo (there will even be black gloves later), slasher and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, only in the Australian bushland – and the accompanying credits, revealing the names of cast and crew and then roughly scoring them out again, foreshadows a modus operandi of the film’s killer.
Couple Megan (Jesse McGinn) and Jonathan Reid (Robert Hartburn) have left the big smoke for the ‘simple life’ of the country at the beginning of the region’s rabbit ‘culling season’, and the film follows their first three nights in the orchard farmhouse, newly bought from Deirdre Bodeen (Rose McKenna), Their cat goes missing, creepy notes are left on their front door, and Meg senses someone outside watching them, even as she discovers that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, in the film’s weakest scenes, voyeuristic Cambo (Bruce Denny) spies on the young couple as he and his young protegé Rex (Connor Gosatti) squat on the property to hunt rabbits. Even as the Reids explore their environs – including a workshed that was once a slaughterhouse, where Jonathan finds an old photograph of a smiling pig farmer and his wife with their eyes scored out of the print – it becomes increasingly clear that something very wrong is messing with them and threatening their well-being.
Slashers have always played numbers games, but here, with a very finite set of characters to be culled, the usual bodycount is replaced with a timecount, as formal headings subdivide the narrative, telling us which night (first, second, etc.) it is of the Reids’ arrival. These introduce a note of ominous tension, as the third night approaches, leaving us on tenterhooks as to what precisely the title will signifies. Observant viewers will know who the antagonist is from very early on, but the why and the how do not come till a grim coda suggesting third nights come around with serial regularity.
Written, produced, directed and cut by Adam Graveley, this feature debut plays a familiar game in a mostly familiar way, but makes the most of its outback setting and (largely) nocturnal camerawork to conjure a sense of feral menace.