The Sixth Sense

 

Bruce Willis stars as a child psychologist named Dr. Malcolm Crowe whose confidence is shattered after a tragic confrontation with a former patient (played by Donnie Wahlberg).

Willis takes on the role with an understated effectiveness absent from most of his former action-oriented roles (does anyone remember Hudson Hawk?). Does this signal a move toward more serious roles or will we see another Die Harder: Dead On Arrival?

Is 11-year-old child star Haley Joel Osment ("I see dead people") destined for superstardom after his superb performance as the introverted, psychic outcast?

A critic on the Internet (who will go unnamed) called the first 75 minutes of this film "the most dull, turgidly paced filmmaking this side of Meet Joe Black." This guy immediately torpedoed his credibility by admitting he preferred What Dreams May Come.

Ghost stories usually take place in old, abandoned farmhouses near cemeteries at the end of dirt roads. This one is set in . . . Philadelphia?

Who is 28-year-old director and screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan and how did he script the most original and audacious screenplay of the year?

Is this simply another skillfully made, but ultimately empty horror movie, or does it have anything important to say about the human psyche? I still haven’t decided. The director himself referred to it as "Ordinary People meets The Exorcist."

Murdered by a mob centuries earlier, the ghosts of three victims of a witch hunt make themselves known to young Cole Sear (Osment)—hanging from the rafters while he strolls through his school. This has to be one of the least effective scenes in the entire movie.

In NYU film graduate Shyamalan, we may be seeing the birth of a new auteur—the kind of intelligent director who can write, direct and produce thoughtful films for the relatively few moviegoers who still enjoy actually thinking during a movie. Or we may be seeing the next Albert Brooks. Who knows?

The film’s cinematography is well worth the price of admission. We witness a lot of beautiful bird’s-eye and claustrophobic shots of characters seemingly trapped in their surroundings.

Films like The Sixth Sense are usually destined for rundown art houses and pulled within weeks to make a quick descent into video stores. How did this film escape that destiny?

First things last. Forget about all this talk about a twist ending. Just let the movie unfold at its own pace and you will have a more enjoyable cinematic experience.

Few films succeed like The Sixth Sense in creating a mood of subtle terror without the typical unrestrained zeal exhibited in slasher films like Terror Train and Prom Night. Other psychological horror films I recommend include Carnival of Souls (1962), The Other (1972), The Changeling (1979) and Jacob’s Ladder (1990).

Minutes after you exit the theater, you will find yourself piecing together seemingly random episodes of the film that have suddenly taken on greater meaning. Viewed forwards, The Sixth Sense is a conventional, if somewhat melodramatic and hackneyed, psychological thriller. Viewed backwards, it is a haunting meditation on lack of communication, isolation and loneliness.

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