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The Sixth Sense
1999 - PG-13 - 107 Mins.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Tony Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg
Review by: John Ulmer

Are you telling me you think my hair doesn't look real?
Some movies manage to scare us, and some movies manage to move us, and "The Sixth Sense" is a film that successfully does both. It took me three separate viewings to finally realize the genius of it all. I was not exactly impressed after seeing it for the first time on network television, after hearing so many good things about it. Then I stumbled into a theater playing "Signs," and I was blown away by M. Night Shyamalan's directing style, and I decided to revisit "The Sixth Sense" again and again--and finally, all in one viewing, everything struck me as a wonderful, perfect whole.

The film begins ominously in the cellar of a dark house. We see Anna Crowe (Olivia Williams) wander into the basement and grab a bottle of wine. We follow her upstairs where she finds her husband, Malcolm (Bruce Willis), drunk on rich wine and admiring his newly-acquired plaque, given to him by the city of Philadelphia in honor of his work in the field of child psychology. He thinks it would look good on the bathroom wall.

Then everything falls apart. Malcolm is shot by an old kid whom he failed to help. Some number of months goes by before we meet up with Malcolm again, as he walks down a street in Philly, watching Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). Cole has been having trouble at school. He seems to be haunted by something, but Malcolm is unable to place a finger on what's wrong.

Then Cole tells him. He sees dead people. ("They walk around like they don't even know they're dead.") Considering Cole a sort of "do-over" for that kid he failed to help so many years ago, Malcolm makes it his personal vendetta to get to the bottom of Cole's troubles, and perhaps even face the most terrifying of all realities: the kid is telling the truth.

John Travolta had "Pulp Fiction" and Willis had "The Sixth Sense." This film reanimated Willis' somewhat faltering career, and for good reason: it's one of his best performances. Sure, the fake wig gets a little tiring, but the mystery surrounding Malcolm and his interest in a patient will connect with most viewers. We're a lot like Malcolm, at first, trying to figure out what's wrong with the boy. Then, later on, we find out that we were really viewing everything through Cole's eyes.

A major problem with movies about kids is that kids often can't act very well and rely on their cute, forced one-liners for audience approval. Not Haley Joel Osment (who was nominated for an Oscar due to this film). He actually acts, unlike most kids his age, which is refreshingly satisfying. He's no Macaulay Culkin--and I mean that in a good way.

You may not be as scared by "The Sixth Sense" as you will be haunted. The movie connects with a primary fear of our inner psyches that we all experience starting as early as childhood: the supernatural. A realm where rules of the mortals do not apply. There's a sort of satisfaction in knowing that only so many things can happen in this world that we live in. We know there's a limit as to what can appear before us, or what restrictions apply. But anything could be possible in a separate realm, and that is what most supernatural horrors miss. They mistake true nail-biting fear for creepy images of ghosts. M. Night Shyamalan doesn't. He strikes a chord with the audience by respecting them more than that.

Shyamalan is a self-confessed Steven Spielberg fan, and also admitted that Spielberg was a huge influence on all his films. I'm not too terribly surprised. Indeed, "The Sixth Sense" carries a sort of elegant structure that some of Spielberg's early features such as "Duel" and "JAWS" contained--some sort of majesty about the curiosity of it all. We never saw the truck driver; we rarely saw the shark (and when we finally did it was truly startling); and here the supernatural overtones of the movie carry a sort of otherworldly mystery that this genre often lacks. I can see how "The Sixth Sense" may have been ample straight-to-video effort. A kid who sees ghosts. It's not exactly brilliantly conceived.

But its execution and surprise ending (that almost everyone knows about by now and few actually guessed ahead of time) are what make "The Sixth Sense" something more than just another supernatural thriller. It's more of a tender, subtle character piece with spiritual overtones. Shyamalan has created an eerie second presence in the movie that is a lot scarier than showing ghosts parade about. "Signs" wasn't about aliens. "The Sixth Sense," despite what people tell you, is not *really* about ghosts. I think that's part of what makes it engage the viewer, and seem so very intriguing, even to this day. After setting a groove for films of the genre to later follow (and knock-off), "The Sixth Sense" stands strong and proud and strikingly different. You have to admire both its ambition and respect for the audience, two fundamental elements of which are often lacking in many of today's motion pictures.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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