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Sixth Sense, The

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 10/29/99 23:03:11

"Dark and unsettling; an uncommon blockbuster."
5 stars (Awesome)

When I first read about THE SIXTH SENSE, I laughed. The thought of Bruce Willis as a child psychologist left me recalling the psychologist he played in COLOR OF NIGHT. I caught COLOR OF NIGHT on television and it was compelling, but in an awful way, like a road accident: you know it’ll be horrible, but you can’t help assessing the damage. THE SIXTH SENSE is compelling in a good way, and you don’t feel guilty for watching it. It’s dark and unsettling, and has characters you care about. Their predicament makes you think about how they’ve been put in danger, and what you’d do in their place, rather than just reacting.

It’s hard to write about the plot because it contains the most talked-about plot twist since THE CRYING GAME. And it’s even more important not to give it away because it comes almost at the end and - without it - the movie has a lot less impact. If there’s
any fault with the film, it’s that it takes a while to start, and it wouldn’t be as satisfying without that final twist.

Haley Joel Osment is Cole Sear, recently moved to Philadelphia with his mother (Toni Collette). Cole has a haunted look - literally, it turns out - because he can see ghosts. These aren’t your friendly Casper-variety ghosts - they terrify him, and he
spends a lot of time in churches trying to get away from them. Bruce Willis’s character, Malcolm Crowe, is drawn to Cole because he reminds him of Vincent Gray, the patient who got away. In the opening sequences we see Crowe confronted in his home by Gray as a grown man (Donnie Wahlberg). Gray accuses Crowe of failing to cure him and turns a gun on himself. If Crowe can only help Cole now, then perhaps he can get his career - and marriage (which suffers while the morose Crowe neglects his wife) - back on track.

Toni Collette is marvellous as Cole’s mother - practical and loving and supportive of her son - even though she’s not in on his secret. She’s like the mother Sharon Stone plays in THE MIGHTY, but Collette brings the role a brittle edge. Her fragility is evident when she fights for her son, and in her big scene at the end when she begins to comprehend her son’s ability. Cole is a boy forced to mature by facing his own exceptional problems. Osment (the young FORREST GUMP) manages to make the
character likeable and distant at the same time. You’d love to give him a hug, but you’d by scared about how he’d react.

Tak Fujimoto’s photography makes the film dark, grey and cold looking (Fujimoto also shot THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and PHILADELPHIA). A lot of Cole’s ghostly encounters take place at night, and when the ghosts appear, the temperature drops.
The performances are beautifully restrained under M. Night Shyamalan’s direction so that the shocks only come from the material in his screenplay. The special effects are believable, but refreshingly not eye-catching or scene-stealing. The only scene which reeks of cheap effect is the opening. Crowe’s congratulatory bottle of wine with his wife after winning a mayoral prize is a too-obvious invitation to danger. Elsewhere
the shocks are beautifully set-up and sustained - Cole’s dream-like encounter with a sick girl who invades his home seeking help (a bit like Crowe’s patient at the beginning). And the chilling image of the teenage boy, excitedly calling for Cole’s help in getting dad’s gun, only to turn around and reveal the back of his head has been blown away.

The phenomenal box-office success of THE SIXTH SENSE is encouraging. Although it boasts a box-office star, this is not Bruce Willis the action hero. It’s one of his against-type, challenging roles (and probably the first one not attached to a commercial failure). It’s the film’s ideas that have attracted the audience. And Shyamalan’s achievement is bringing his ideas to the screen intact, without diluting or spoiling them.

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