The Sixth Sense is a genius expression of fear and thrill: 5/5
Best of the Best
Disclaimer: This is a spoiler-free review.
“I see dead people”- Haley Joel Osment’s Cole Sear, The Sixth Sense
It is quite unfortunate that this line is the first thing that comes to mind when somebody mentions M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 horror thriller The Sixth Sense. Nothing against the moment itself, I am quite fond of it myself. What upsets me is the way that sticks in everyone’s mind, cementing The Sixth Sense as nothing more than a creepy ghost story with a cool twist, especially to people to have yet to see the film. Sadly I, too, thought nothing more of The Sixth Sense when I decided to watch it late one evening. I am so very sorry. I shall never make that mistake again.
It is not to say that The Sixth Sense is not a creepy ghost story, just in another sense of the term. It is about a psychiatrist named Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) assigned to treat Cole (Haley Joel Osment), and yes, Cole does, in fact, “see dead people”, and yes, the film is utterly terrifying, but not just for the sake of making you jump out of your seat or to make you lie awake at night, but to make a point about not only things that evoke fear, but about fear itself. The Sixth Sense is about things that are truly scary, such as being unable to control what you see, or, even scarier, not even knowing what it is you see.
I think it safe to say that I did not know I was getting into when putting on The Sixth Sense. I had already been impressed with Shyamalan, having just seen his very well done 2000 thriller Unbreakable. I had heard only praises of the film, so I decided that this would be a very good, possibly fantastic thriller, in the Unbreakable sense, no pun intended. I have already seen The Sixth Sense twice now in only a couple of weeks, and I am already bracing myself for a third.
The Sixth Sense has a plot that is filled to the brim with complexity, Bruce Willis’ child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe and his wife (Olivia Williams) are one night visited by an old patient, who is furious at Crowe because he did not cure him of his mental condition. He shoots Crowe, and then proceeds to kill himself. The film then jumps to next fall. Crowe and his wife aren’t talking anymore. He’s kind of stuck in a bad spot. One day, he is assigned to treat the young Cole. He wants to help Cole because he reminds him of the old patient that visited him that night. He feels that if he helps him, it will right that wrong. The rest is cinema history.
Already, the film is set dripping with emotion. Sadness, depression, regret, hope, and mystery all culminate in the opening scenes of the movie and they hover over the events of the film like a dark cloud with the everlasting threat of rain. Even in the scenes that are mostly focused around scares still find ways to incorporate deep messages about faith and fear. The film defines the horror thriller, if it had not already been defined by Alfred Hitchcock by films like Psycho and The Birds. Even if The Sixth Sense had not defined the genre like these other films, it definitely deserves to stand with them.
The film shocked, surprised, and put things out there that you never thought a film could ever introduce. For example, this film gave the world Bruce Willis’ amazing performance as Crowe, and once again proved to the world that he is capable of giving a great performance when he’s not bringing down terrorists at Christmastime. We first got a taste of that in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and Willis still manages to impress.
But the real surprise is Osment. He was an unknown child actor, who, in an instant, became a huge star for The Sixth Sense. He was an 11 year-old kid, who managed to star alongside Bruce Willis, an acting phenomenon, and still was the part of the film that everyone remembered. He manages to be creepy yet sweet, likeable yet pitiful, scared and not without hope. It is a joy to see his personality and character evolve throughout the course of the film.
But the one thing that gets The Sixth Sense my new Best of the Best rating is its subtlety. Subtlety is something that horror films and thrillers; hell, movies altogether, are missing. Jumpscares are treated in film today as cheap, and are usually accompanied by a loud noise. Which means, of course, that the loud noise is getting the scare (if you can really call it that), not the actual events of the film. The Sixth Sense, while it does have scenes that make you jump, the scares are not bare boned. They mean something. Then again, everything in The Sixth Sense means something. Symbolism abounds, but it isn’t in your face. It is, of course, subtle. And while masked by its subtlety, the film’s genius lies while few will recognize it. But when you do recognize it, The Sixth Sense is elevated to the level of a great movie, which it wholeheartedly deserves.
Sure, I’ve told you the things that make The Sixth Sense great. Now, what makes it unique? The understanding. Shyamalan and the film itself not only understands humans, but human fear. It understands that the scariest things are the things are the things you don’t know. The things you can’t see. Not knowing who or what you are or who or what you see. The Sixth Sense understands how scary these things are. And to be honest, The Sixth Sense is one of the only films that does.