The Sixth Sense Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

You know the accident up there?
Someone got hurt.
They did?
A lady... she broke her neck.
Oh my god... you can see her?
Where is she?
Standing next to my window.
The Sixth Sense Logo

With "The Haunting" scaring its way to the number one spot last weekend, and "The Blair Witch Project" packing movie houses this weekend, it seems that horror has re-entered the consciousness of North American moviegoers. And now joining the fray is "The Sixth Sense", the third feature from sophomore director M. Night Shyamalan ("Wide Awake"), who was able to land top-shelf talent on the strength of his script. Despite a leisurely pace and unconventional narrative structure that is sure to test the patience of the audience, "The Sixth Sense" ultimately redeems itself in the last fifteen minutes with a metaphysical twist that will leave you reeling.

The story revolves around Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis of "Armageddon"), a distinguished child psychologist, and his treatment of a disturbed eight year-old boy, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment, who played Forrest Jr. in "Forrest Gump"). The boy has a history of emotional problems, physical wounds, and psychotic behavior-- symptoms very similar to those of another patient that Malcolm had treated in the past, Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg of "Ransom"). Unfortunately, the work with Vincent ended in tragedy a year prior, after Vincent shot Malcolm in the stomach before turning the gun on himself. Determined to overcome the guilt that has been festering for a year, Malcolm tries to understand the world that Cole is trapped in, in the hopes of preventing another tragedy.

I want to tell you my secret.
I see dead people.
In coffins, in graves?
No, I see them walking around like regular people.
How often do you see them?
All the time.

Unfortunately, the task at hand is daunting. Cole is haunted by strange sounds and eerie apparitions, and he is unable to share his anguish with anyone, not even his mother (Toni Collette of "Clockwatchers"). As his sessions delve deeper into Cole's psyche, Malcolm comes to believe that Cole possesses a 'sixth sense', being able to see and communicate with ghosts. Furthermore, as the investigation probes deeper and deeper into the child's troubled world, the work takes its toll on Malcolm's personal life, as he grows increasingly estranged from his wife Anna (Olivia Williams of "Rushmore"), who doesn't even talk to him anymore and may even be having an affair.

Sometimes you feel it inside, like you're falling down real fast. Do you ever feel the prickly things on the back of your neck?
That's them.

Like "The Blair Witch Project", "The Sixth Sense" relies more on subtlety to create a creepy atmosphere-- contrast this to "The Haunting", a virtual cartoon where what you see is what you get. Shyamalan builds up the story very slowly, gradually unveiling the mysteries in the lives of both doctor and patient. With the effective use of a muted color pallet and some lighting effects, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (who also lensed "That Thing You Do") creates an atmosphere of unrelenting dread that makes it very easy to become caught up in story. Willis and Osment also play well off each other, the former delivering a restrained yet credible performance as the troubled therapist, and the latter acquitting himself quite well in the portrayal of the troubled child (compare his performance with that of Jake Lloyd in "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace").

I think that they know that you're one of these very rare people who can see them, so you need to help them.
What if they don't want help?
I don't think that's the way it works.
How do you know for sure?
Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis

Unfortunately, with Shyamalan's deliberate and measured buildup comes the film's greatest challenge-- pacing. Like "Eyes Wide Shut", the slow pacing becomes overwhelming at times, often bringing the momentum of the story to a grinding halt, and will undoubtedly test the patience of audiences. In addition, though the main focus is on the relationship between Malcolm and Cole, it would have been nice to see more attention paid to Collete and Williams, whose supporting roles are not given the chance to fully develop, especially in light of what is revealed by the film's end.

A further test comes from the film's unconventional narrative structure, which defies expectations by never seeming to reach a discernible denouement. As the film reaches its final turning point, you may end up wondering what was the point of the story, since a number of outstanding issues remain unresolved by that juncture...

...and then Shyamalan's script dispenses one final twist that makes everything clear, and absolves the film's earlier transgressions. Truth be told, up until the final minutes of "The Sixth Sense", I found it to be a mildly-entertaining ghost story that seemed aimless in execution. But with the film's final revelation, all that changed with one slam dunk, even more effectively than the other 'mediocre film with a great ending of the summer', "Arlington Road".

Please make them leave.
I'm working on it.

If you are tired of horror films that are not much scarier than the haunted house at the local amusement park, "The Sixth Sense" will restore your faith in the possibilities of what appears to be a creatively-bankrupt genre. Yes, the pedestrian pacing makes "Meet Joe Black" look like "Speed", and at times, the story seems to be going nowhere... but the longer the buildup, the bigger the payoff.

Images courtesy of Hollywood Pictures. All rights reserved.

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