a critiQal film review The Sixth Sense (1999)

Plot: Young Cole Sear (Osment) is haunted by a dark secret: he is visited by ghosts. Cole is frightened by visitations from those with unresolved problems who appear from the shadows. He is too afraid to tell anyone about his anguish, except child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Willis). As Dr. Crowe tries to uncover the truth about Cole's supernatural abilities, the consequences for client and therapist are a jolt that awakens them both to something unexplainable.

697 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 29s)
  • ...an engrossing story and standout performances from Willis and Osment make for a strong debut film from director Shyamalan.

While I was down and out with a cold, Carmella decided she wanted to see a film we hadn’t watched in years: The Sixth Sense, since it’s currently available on NetFlix®. And, it seemed appropriate, as M. Night is back in the limelight recently thanks to the success of Split (2017).

But, since we already knew the big surprise, would the film really be worth watching again? Or is it one of those films that if you know the surprise, it just isn’t as fun?

Bruce Willis tones down his normal action hero persona for The Sixth Sense, and does an excellent job. While his turn in Unbreakable (2000) still had him kind of being the action hero, in this earlier film from M. Night Shyamalan, he’s just a child psychologist named Malcolm. While Osment has gotten most of the fame from this, it’s Bruce Willis’ strong performance that really anchors the film. He’s the viewer’s window to the story, and really leads them along brilliantly throughout.

Haley Joel Osment, of course, delivers a breakout performance in The Sixth Sense. His performance as Cole shows a maturity beyond his years, and he easily keeps up with Willis throughout the film. While Willis’ character is the viewer’s window to the story, Osment’s Cole is the main attraction, and he doesn’t let viewers down at any point. Unlike most child performances, he seems completely at ease in front of the camera, and his scenes with Willis are standouts in the film.

Toni Collette (as Cole’s mother) and Olivia Williams (as Malcolm’s wife) are definitely secondary characters in The Sixth Sense. While most of the screen time is given over to the dynamic duo of Willis and Osment, Collette and Williams deliver in their smaller roles as well. They both breathe life into these secondary characters, and while they don’t really get much time to show it, they really deliver in their moments in the limelight.

With The Sixth Sense, director M. Night Shyamalan exploded onto the scene with a bang. While his later films (like Signs (2002), The Happening (2008), The Village (2004), The Last Airbender (2010)) couldn’t match up, his directorial debut in this film became an instant classic. And for good reason. Even if you know the famous twist in this film, it remains engrossing and diabolically clever throughout. Every sequence makes complete sense (whether you know the twist or not), as all the clues are there for the viewer to pick up on. However, the film is clever enough, that most won’t pick up on the clues the first time they watch the film, leaving the famous twist a complete surprise. Yet, on repeated viewings, the clues are suddenly blatantly obvious.

And the storyline itself is engrossing. Seen from Malcolm’s point of view, the viewer is slowly introduced to the troubled Cole. Getting into trouble, and mostly frightened of everything, this troubled young boy seems to show all the signs of abuse. And yet, there are things that don’t add up, and, as Malcolm soon discovers, it’s a lot odder than it at first appears – this young boy sees dead people.

With a setup like that, The Sixth Sense could have easily been played for the horror factor, setting Cole up as a sort of creepy kid a la The Omen (1976). Instead, this film – while it does have a few gory glimpses – instead plays out as a drama, as Malcolm the psychologist tries to help young Cole through his fears, and helps him discover why he’s haunted by the dead. Obviously, this was done so well that viewers wanted more, since Jennifer Love Hewitt was able to re-invigorate her career in a TV series (“The Ghost Whisperer” (TV)) with a very similar concept.

Thanks to the engrossing story showcased in The Sixth Sense – not to mention standout performances from Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment – this is one film that is worth watching again and again. A shockingly strong debut from M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense should not be missed. And if you already own it, why not dust it off and watch it again? It’s just as good now as it ever was.

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