James Newton Howard
Bruce Willis (Dr. Malcolm Crowe)
Toni Collette (Lynn Sear)
Olivia Williams (Anna Crowe)
Haley Joel Osment (Cole Sear)
Donnie Wahlberg (Vincent Grey)
Glenn Fitzgerald (Sean)
Mischa Barton (Kyra Collins)
M. Night Shyamalan (Dr. Hill)
MPAA rating: PG-13
U.S. release: August 6, 1999
Video availability: VHS - DVD
Night Shyamalan films
reviewed on this website:
here's the movie I wanted The
Blair Witch Project to be. True, The Sixth Sense
isn't in the class of horror heavyweights like Halloween;
it's more of a respectable middleweight, and it packs a wallop
when it decides to let fly. This may be a case of a movie betrayed
by its own trailer: Spookily photographed and edited, the trailer
nonetheless suggested Mercury Rising meets The Shining
-- a little boy sees ghosts, and here's Bruce Willis to the rescue!
-- and the little boy in question, one Haley Joel Osment, seemed
stiff and stilted in his too-whispery delivery. This was going
to be a turkey, no doubt about it.
Well, there's a lot to be said for going into a movie with low
expectations. Aside from a couple of unnecessary scenes, The
Sixth Sense is a low-key triumph of mood and menace; the
most shocking thing about it is how hushed and intimate it is,
how softly and quietly it goes about its business of creeping
us out. The movie is all of a piece, which is probably why the
scenes in the trailer, ripped out of context, feel a bit cheesy.
In context, the quietly fear-stricken performance of 11-year-old
Osment, as the haunted Cole Sear, works beautifully. It works
even better after you've seen the film and put the pieces together
-- about which, more later.
Cole is scared to death almost all the way through the movie,
as well he should be: Dead people who don't know they're dead
are visiting him, and he doesn't know what they want from him.
Enter child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe (Willis), who gently tries
to prod the boy into revealing his secret. For a while, we're
not sure whether Cole is actually seeing ghosts, or is just a
lonely little boy acting out in the wake of his parents' divorce.
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan gives us an early exchange
between Cole and Malcolm that speaks volumes: Malcolm guesses
that the watch Cole is wearing was given to him by his (absent)
father, and Cole shakes his head and says solemnly, "He
forgot it in his drawer. It doesn't work."
Malcolm is drawn to Cole because of an earlier incident -- a
former child patient, now grown, who freaked out and became violent.
Cole reminds Malcolm of that patient, and the doctor sees Cole
as his chance for redemption. The heart of The Sixth Sense
is in soft-spoken conversations between Malcolm and Cole, as
well as between Cole and his frazzled but loving mom (the excellent
Toni Collette). There is no cheesy subplot in which Malcolm and
Cole's mom become romantically involved, even though Malcolm's
own marriage seems to be in trouble; you know a guy's working
too hard when the wife he's ignoring is Olivia Williams (Rushmore).
Shyamalan, working with cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (The Silence
of the Lambs), takes time on the mood and atmosphere
-- the possibility of the uncanny in mundane settings. (There's
also a hidden-video-camera bit more disturbing than anything
in Blair Witch.) There are swipes here and there -- a
Poltergeist nod, for example -- but the movie lays realistic
groundwork for the supernatural events to come. And when they
come, they are all the more unsettling for being rather matter-of-fact.
The Sixth Sense also, as you may have heard by now, boasts
a nice curveball ending; I liked it the other few times I've
seen it before, but I didn't see it coming here. (Among other
things, you realize why Cole whispers throughout the movie.)
The best curveball the movie throws, though, is that it dares
to be small-scale, quiet, and low-tech in a shrill era for horror.