Rarely are descriptors such as “awkward” and “cringe inducing” used in the positive sense (in the true meaning of the phrases, that is). Mostly, such words are reserved for moments or things we’d like to forget: a bad date, an awful live band, an unfunny standup comedian. But Manuel Lagos Jr’s debut feature The Third is a film that takes awkwardness and cringiness and uses such feelings to induce in the viewer an emotional response, one that comes from diving into the unpleasantness of human experience and feeling the emotions of characters and actually connecting with the story in a deeper manner than usual.

            The Third is the story of Buddy and Catherine, a couple who’ve recently moved in with one another. Though it’s not quite explicitly stated, there are hints that there’s trouble in paradise. Nothing glaringly obvious. Just…a feeling. Compounding these ethereal troubles is the arrival of Juliet, a childhood friend of Catherine’s turned Christian social media influencer who comes to stay with them over the 4th of July weekend in Nashville. Like a young Danny Torrance showing up at the Overlook Hotel, Juliet’s presence seems to awaken in Buddy and Catherine a whole host of emotions. Things quickly heat up in all sorts of ways, leading to self-actualization, heartfelt confessions, unpleasant realizations, and ultimately catharsis.

            This is a film that asks a lot of the audience, but in a good way. Lagos invites us to fully sympathize and empathize with his characters, asking us to step on up and step right into their shoes. It feels very personal as well. Not in a way that Lagos is telling us something about himself, but more so the characters themselves are opening up to the viewer as much as they are to the other characters, and it is here that the awkwardness comes to light. Buddy’s nascent attraction to Juliet becomes more and more obvious, and Juliet’s own painful past changes her into something further and further away from who she is when we meet her. Both changes are uncomfortable to watch mostly because it feels like we shouldn’t be watching them. It’s like walking in on your best friend pouring their heart out at the high school reunion to someone they had a crush on twenty-five years ago.

 As the film progresses, and more of the characters inner workings are exposed, the more relatable and human they become. Juliet undergoes the greatest change. Erica Boozer brings the character forth first as a bubbly social media guru brimming with sugary youth pastor energy and gradually allows a deep inner sadness to begin shining through. Soon, the peppy and saccharine Instagram princess is replaced by someone wracked with existential and spiritual pain. The mask is fantastic but when it slips what replaces it is awe inspiring and tragic. Boozer’s performance is absolutely phenomenal. But Evangeline Wurst and Joshua Payne as Catherine and Buddy respectively are by no means slouches. Together they sell us a couple that is outwardly perfect but riddled with hairline cracks, a seemingly happy couple whose connective tissue may just be starting to fray. They are the powder keg that is unaware of its own nature and only when the slow burning fuse that is Juliet is introduced do they learn of their own spectacular potential.

The Third is a deeply honest film, holding little (if anything) back. That is not to say it’s an unpleasant film; far from it. Rather, it is a cathartic film, and catharsis is by definition uncomfortable. This is a movie that will make you squirm. It will make you feel sorry for some of the characters in how pathetic they act. But in the end, it’s a movie about people getting through whatever it is they’re going through, and it’s beautiful to watch unfold.