This is one creepy psychological drama you don't want to miss!
The Sixth Sense
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, and Donnie Wahlberg
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Barry Mendel
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material and violent images
When someone mentions the term 'horror film,' often people immediately imagine films of the Scream variety. It's a shame, really, as the horror genre is much broader than that generalization assumes. The horror genre has, alas, become the most ridiculed and reviled genres of them all. However, there is something horror films can do that no other kind of film can: they can speak to us on a psychological level some dramas only dream they can achieve. M. Night Shyamalan takes advantage of this, and uses the horror genre to subvert our expectations. We expect to be scared, and while screaming, we are touched by the sad events that occur to the main characters in Shyamalan's film.
The Sixth Sense is a masterful blend of psychological drama and horrific imagery. There are moments when viewers are touched by the emotional relationship between Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and his mother (Toni Collette), and there are moments when viewers are frightened by the disturbing images we are shown. At times, the film recalls the classic The Exorcist (which is completely overrated, in my opinion). This is a better film, as it deals with the human emotions more thoroughly. It's a character-driven film disguised as a plot -driven one.
The Sixth Sense opens with Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) receiving an award for outstanding work in the field of psychology for children. Unfortunately, he's not always successful. One of his patients, Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg), has grown up still plagued with his problems. He blames Crowe, shoots him, and then turns the gun on himself. "Next fall..." the title card reads, Crowe's marriage is virtually non-existant and his own obsession with Vincent has reemerged. Fortunately, he's found another child suffering from the same symptoms: Cole Sear. Cole is a withdrawn child who doesn't have friends and gets teased at school. His mother is worried about him, and seeks help. Nobody can seem to help him--except Malcolm. He talks with Cole and tries to get him to open up. When he finally does, he admits a terrible secret.
"I see dead people." Four words, and with them, the course of the film changes. The Sixth Sense is no longer about the emotional trouble this kid is having. Instead, it's about Malcolm's fight to beat the kid's problems. How does one go about helping a child get over the trauma of seeing dead people--complete with their bloody injuries that they had when they died? Yes, this is a ghost story, but it's also the first ghost story that I've seen where the protagonist actually sets out to help the ghosts. Are they stuck here on earth for a reason? Malcolm guides Cole to aide these apparitions in the resting of their souls.
Many have criticized the film for not being scary, but I think that isn't the film's point. The central issue here is not the fact that Cole can see ghosts. His relationship with his mother is crucial to the film's success. Scenes between them are dramatically charged, and the chemistry between the two is riveting. Toni Collette gives a masterful performance as a woman so desperate to understand her child's problems that she is breaking down emotionally. In what could have been a cliched, mother-beats-child relationship, M. Night Shyamalan ensures that these two are the core of the film's emotions. Cole must hide things from his mother, and it is easy to see that it is tearing both of them apart. It's emotionally gut-wrenching, and their scenes together are the best of the film. This is one of the most powerful mother-son relationships I have ever witnessed in a Hollywood film.
Much has also been said of the climax, in which the plot comes to a screeching halt and sends it off in a completely new direction. It's the ultimate plot twist. Just as the ending of The Usual Suspects shocked us, so it does here. Everything we thought we knew turns out to be questionable. It's worthy of a second viewing just to see if it all works out. While there are moments that are logically questionable, everything does work out. The twist is not the point of the film, however. It's merely there to enhance the story, and it works. Brilliantly, I might add. Shyamalan's screenplay is among the year's best--he understands that audiences love a good twist, and he gives one to us. It's one of the best endings I've seen in a long time, and the twist itself ensures multiple viewings. As I said before (and thankfully), this twist is not the only point to the story. It's just to make us talk about the film afterwards.
This may star Bruce Willis, but it is Haley Joel Osment's film from start to finish. He's a brilliant young actor who has been great before, but outdoes himself here. His performance IS the film. Without Osment, this film would be a disaster. Thankfully, Osment is extremely talented in what I think is the best performance in a supporting role all year. There isn't one that comes close. Osment deserves an Oscar, and he may just get it. Of course, Willis does help. Willis, apparently realizing he's getting too old for action hero roles, is trying to become a true thespian, and this is one of his best performances yet. The chemistry and bond he has with Osment is striking and powerful. They work great together. Collette, as I said before, is brilliant as Lynn Sear, and her emotional breakdown is heartbreaking. It's as good a performance as you will see all year. Olivia Williams is underused as Willis' wife, though she is great when on screen. It's almost a shame she's not on screen more. And yes, that's Donnie Wahlberg (completely unrecognizable) as Crowe's former patient. It's a remarkable cast giving brilliant performances across the board.
M. Night Shyamalan, in his first American film, gives audiences reason to recognize his name. He's brought a subtlety to the film that makes it entrancing. The film is gorgeous to look at, with almost black and white sensibilities. The use of the color red is a stark contrast to the dull colors. It's quite potent. Shayamalan directs with an amazing grace that brings glamour back to the horror genre. Never before have I seen a horror film that is quite as evocative as this one. It's chilling and warm at the same time. Tak Fujimoto's cinematography is stunning, capturing the gorgeous red nicely. Andrew Mondshein's editing is noteworthy, particularly during the climax which is edited perfectly. And James Newton Howard's score is haunting without being overbearing. In fact, much of the film is done without music at all. And Shyamalan directs all of this with a steady hand, in what is the year's second best horror film.
The Sixth Sense is rated PG-13 for intense thematic material and violent images. This isn't really suitable for children, as we are witness to several after-death images. Also, the maturity of the emotions is too complex for them to handle. It's a film made for adults, and it's nicely paced. The film is never boring, but it also isn't jarring. 1999 has been a breakthrough year, and this is merely one of those breakthroughs. And holding it all up is a 10 year old actor in the performance of such a young lifetime.
***1/2 out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie