Film: The Sixth Sense

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Film:

The Sixth Sense

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: Walt Disney Video

“I see dead people,” whispers little Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), scared to affirm what is to him now a daily occurrence. This peaked 9-year old, already hypersensitive to begin with, is now being haunted by seemingly malevolent spirits. Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is trying to find out what’s triggering Cole’s visions, but what appears to be a psychological manifestation turns out to be frighteningly real. It might be enough to scare off a lesser man, but for Malcolm it’s personal—several months before, he was accosted and shot by an…

Reviews

Amazon.com

“I see dead people,” whispers little Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), scared to affirm what is to him now a daily occurrence. This peaked 9-year old, already hypersensitive to begin with, is now being haunted by seemingly malevolent spirits. Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is trying to find out what’s triggering Cole’s visions, but what appears to be a psychological manifestation turns out to be frighteningly real. It might be enough to scare off a lesser man, but for Malcolm it’s personal—several months before, he was accosted and shot by an unhinged patient, who then turned the gun on himself. Since then, Malcolm has been in turmoil—he and his wife (Olivia Williams) are barely speaking, and his life has taken an aimless turn. Having failed his loved ones and himself, he’s not about to give up on Cole.

This third feature by M. Night Shyamalan sets itself up as a thriller, poised on the brink of delivering monstrous scares, but gradually evolves into more of a psychological drama with supernatural undertones. Many critics faulted the film for being mawkish and New Age-y, but no matter how you slice it, this is one mightily effective piece of filmmaking. The bare bones of the story are basic enough, but the moody atmosphere created by Shyamalan and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto made this one of the creepiest pictures of 1999, forsaking excessive gore for a sinisterly simple feeling of chilly otherworldliness. Willis is in his strong, silent type mode here, and gives the film wholly over to Osment, whose crumpled face and big eyes convey a child too wise for his years; his scenes with his mother (Toni Collette) are small, heartbreaking marvels. And even if you figure out the film’s surprise ending, it packs an amazingly emotional wallop when it comes, and will have you racing to watch the movie again with a new perspective. You may be able to shake off the sentimentality of The Sixth Sense, but its craftsmanship and atmosphere will stay with you for days. —Mark Englehart

Barnes and Noble

A throwback to old-fashioned fright films, The Sixth Sense eschews gimmicky effects in favor of intriguing storytelling, sympathetic characters, and evocative atmospherics that tingle viewers’ spines. Bruce Willis gives one of his most understated and effective performances to date as a child psychologist whose career goes into decline after he’s shot by a former patient. His latest case involves a troubled grade-school boy (Haley Joel Osment, in an Oscar-nominated performance) who confesses, “I see dead people”—a claim the psychologist comes to believe is true. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (Wide Awake) wisely makes Osment the story’s focal point, allowing us to see the restless spirits that visit him, to feel the terror that besets him. The scenes between Osment and Willis are handled subtly, and Shyamalan’s shattering surprise denouement blindsides even the most observant viewers. Easily the creepiest ghost story in recent memory, The Sixth Sense is guaranteed to stand your hair on end. Ed Hulse

Related Works

Album:The Sixth Sense: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The Sixth Sense: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

James Newton Howard

James Newton Howard was no stranger to psychological horror prior to this project. But The Sixth Sense has a little more bite to its creepiness than previous assignments such as The Devil’s Advocate, inspiring a touch more atonality from the composer. The tension of the film is enhanced by moments of aural surprise, such as the discomforting cue “Suicide Ghost” in which string instruments are struck by their bows leading into voiceless choir, but more so by the sustained notes that feel as if they’ll never end. Sadly, there’s no melodic “hook” to…

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