#66 The Sixth Sense
(1999, M. Night Shyamalan)
“I see dead people”
After The Usual Suspects and Fight Club, it’s now time for yet another 90s movie known for its major twist. Of course, by now many people know the big infamous twist of The Sixth Sense due to common pop cultural knowledge, so for once I’m going to avoid my “no spoilers” rule since most people already know the ending. If by some miracle you’ve avoided all spoilers about this film so far, then I’d advise you to skip to the last paragraph or just skip this review entirely and read on/wait for the next one.
Bruce Willis plays Dr Malcolm Crowe, a recognised child psychologist who’s recently won an award for his great work. While celebrating with his wife, a former patient breaks into his house claiming that Crowe never helped him so he doesn’t deserve his award before pulling a gun on him. A year later, things have gotten worse for him, and now his wife doesn’t talk to him. However, he meets a boy, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) with similar problems to his failed patient, and now he hopes to succeed with this one, to make up for what went wrong. But Cole’s issues apparently stem from a supernatural gift…he sees dead people.
Now, these days director M. Night Shyamalan has become notorious for dumb horror movies with terrible twists, but back when this film came out he was considered a promising new director with the ability to reshape the horror genre. And indeed, the praise at the time was deserved, which makes it all the more shocking that the quality of Shyamalan’s work has declined so rapidly in recent years.
However, the “horror” in The Sixth Sense isn’t really there. What makes the movie work so well is how well it works as a character drama, albeit one with a supernatural edge to it. There are numerous instances of the movie trying to be creepy and dropping jump scares on the viewer, but these are jarring in context. Perhaps this is why Shyamalan’s work has failed since. He’s not a brilliant horror director, and later films lacked the effective drama of this one, making his later work feel like “Goosebumps for adults”.
The actors are fantastic here. Bruce Willis, usually known for his action roles, does an especially brilliant job in a very quiet, emotional role. He makes Malcolm a very believable character, and he makes us feel for him in regards to the breakdown of his marriage. Haley Joel Osment is also brilliant for his age, putting in an incredibly strong performance, although at times he does make some weird facial expressions, especially when he smiles. However, Toni Collette as his mother isn’t as brilliant. She does a decent job with what she has to work with, but her character just feels overly hysterical and her repeated line “look at my face” bugged the hell out of me.
It’s also the subtleties within the story that make it what it is. From the continued references of things being cold to the use of the colour red, Shyamalan made numerous good choices about how to hint at the presence of the supernatural. His use of foreshadowing for the twist is significant too, and on repeated viewings it’s amazing to spot the many ways the twist was revealed to the audience without their knowledge, such as when you realise the only other character he properly interacts with is Cole. It’s a little unusual that he never speaks to Cole’s mother, particularly as a child psychologist would be more than likely to do this. Sure, he talks to his wife, but she never responds; initially we’re led to believe this is due to a growing distance between the two until everything is revealed.
However, not all is well. In all his hint-dropping, Shyamalan tends to throw in a few odd shot choices. One particular shot shows a couple of angel statues, supposedly on a church, but this shot adds nothing to what’s going on. It feels like Shyamalan is trying too hard to creep the audience out and scare them, ignoring the fact that it’s the dramatic core of the story that keeps things moving more than anything he can try and scare us with.
So, The Sixth Sense. Fails as a horror movie, but instead works brilliantly as a supernatural-themed drama. If only Shyamalan himself realised this.
Starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams & Haley Joel Osment
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy & Barry Mendel
Music score by James Newton Howard
Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto
Edited by Andrew Mondshein
Favourite Scene: Cole reveals his “powers” to his mother in the car back from the school play. Not so much a scene about a kid revealing psychic powers, more a spectacular reconciliation between a mother and son who’ve been largely distant up to this point
Scene That Bugged Me: Stop saying “look at my face” Toni Collette!
Watch it if: You want to see dead people
Avoid it if: You want those dead people to actually be scary
Originally posted on Blogspot Wednesday 14 March 2012