Retro Film Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)
The author of this review is accustomed to being in minority on many issues. One of those is a career of M. Night Shyamalan. Most critics tend to think that Shyamalan's first major film, 1999 horror The Sixth Sense, is his best and that his subsequent films are significantly worse. The author of this review thinks otherwise. Shyamalan's film-making skills actually improved over time and his subsequent films are actually better than The Sixth Sense.
That doesn't mean that The Sixth Sense is bad film. On the surface, it was a great success. It was one of the big commercial surprises of 1999 and the excellent box-office results were followed by rave reviews and series of "Oscar" nominations. This very success was hard to repeat and any subsequent Shyamalan's film was seen as a disappointment or at least inferior to its glorious predecessor.
The plot begins when Dr. Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis), one of Philadelphia's most respected child psychiatrists receives mayor's reward for his professional achievements. On the very night of celebration Crowe's home is invaded by Vincent Grey (played by Donnie Wahlberg), Crowe's former patient who shoots Crowe before taking his own life. Months have passed and Crowe tries to get over this traumatic incident by taking the case of Cole Sear (played by Haley Joel Osment), young boy who suffers from the same symptoms that had plagued Vincent Grey. Cole, despite all the care by his mother Lynn (played by Toni Colette), looks scared all the time. Crowe uses all of his skills to win the boy's trust only to find that Cole believes that he can see ghosts who ask him all kinds of favours. Crowe is convinced that Cole suffers from schizophrenia, but he is nevertheless determined to cure him, even if its means becoming alienated from his wife Anne (played by Olivia Williams).
The most memorable element of The Sixth Sense is the famous plot twist at the end. This would become Shyamalan's trademark. However, this film earns viewers' attention even long before that. Shyamalan uses the Gothic surrounding of his home city of Philadelphia to build the atmosphere that would carry the plot rather than conventional horror genre techniques. His direction is superb and in subsequent viewings it is possible to detect many fine details that point to the twist at the end.
Another memorable element of The Sixth Sense is the acting. Haley Joel Osment was wonderful in his role. His Cole Sear is a very complex character - a bright child who is both terrified and resigned by his predicament. Shyamalan cleverly presents the events from his perspective and in those moments the film is the scariest and the most effective. Bruce Willis was very good as partner. The Sixth Sense was opportunity for him to show that he can grow as an actor and this opportunity was exploited. His role of guilt-struck psychiatrist is much better than the similar role he played in Color of Night.
The Sixth Sense has great acting, great directing and great plot twist, yet it lacks some things necessary to become an undisputed classic. The most obvious is the script. Shyamalan is a great director but in this film his scriptwriting abilities left too much to be desired. The plot seems more suitable for the Twilight Zone episode than a feature film. Shyamalan extends it at the expense of the film's pace. Some scenes look repetitive and some subplots are unnecessary and predictable. Because of that The Sixth Sense, although good enough to justify its commercial and critical success, isn't great. Thankfully, Shyamalan learned from some of his mistakes and his subsequent films were better. The Sixth Sense, in a way, describes itself through its title - a good film that shows even better things that lie in the future.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on February 14th 2005)
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