A Film by M. Night Shyamalan

When was the last time you saw a movie that really scared you? I’ll bet it’s been awhile. Your wait is not over. The Sixth Sense is spooky, but it’s not scary. Then again, it doesn’t really try to be.

The Sixth Sense is about a child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who’s intent on unraveling the mystery of a disturbed eight-year-old boy named Cole (Halley Joel Osment). Part of what draws Crowe to this little boy is the resemblance of the case to one he botched many years earlier. That patient turned out pretty twisted and assaulted the good doctor and his wife in their home, shortly before blowing his own head off. Willis’ new patient, as it turns out, sees dead people. They don’t know they’re dead, they’re everywhere, and they seem intent on speaking to the boy and getting him to carry out bizarre, mysterious tasks for them.

As Willis grows more obsessed with the idea of redeeming himself by helping the boy, his life crumbles about him. His marriage grows cold and his wife begins eyeing a younger, more attentive fellow. We don’t care, really—it’s only his relationship with the boy that concerns us. Ultimately, Willis comes to accept his patient’s visions as a sort of reality. Once he does, he stumbles onto a solution, a way his patient can come to terms with his ghosts. This leads the movie to its true climax, a revelation that has nothing to do with the principle characters. It concerns a dead child, a stranger, and is virtually devoid of supernatural connotations. Yet it is as close as the movie comes to unmitigated horror.

The film is unhurried and deliberate, studiously avoiding excessive gore or gratuitous attempts to frighten us. Director M. Night Shyamalan wants to touch us, instead, by pulling us into the relationship between Willis and his young patient. To a large extent, this effort succeeds. Willis turns in one of his better, more subdued performances, and Halley Joel Osment’s depiction of the young patient is luminous. His Cole has a milky emotional opacity, at once vulnerable and strong, with eyes full of wisdom and sadness. This is the boy who should have played Anakin Skywalker.

Unfortunately, The Sixth Sense is marred by an awful "surprise" ending. Many will see it coming, perhaps, but the film had demonstrated such quality and restraint that I was truly shocked by this sudden resort to cheap and hackneyed storytelling. So despite its excellent and evocative direction, its engaging if not altogether original premise, and fine performances by Willis and Osment, I have to say my recommendation comes with strong reservations. Go see it, expect to be entertained, touched, horrified—and ultimately disappointed by a terminal twist that reeks of Hollywood.

And remember—you won’t be scared.

Incident at Owl Creek Bridge meets The Shining.  

Sullydog Approves.

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