The Sixth Sense (1999)
The sole reason Shyamalan is still allowed to make movies.
The Sixth Sense is about an esteemed child psychiatrist who’s sittin’ pretty with his wife in Philly, but then one night he gets shot by one of his former patients who couldn’t help, and his career and marriage subsequently tailspin out of control. As he struggles to pick up the pieces, he starts meeting with a young boy whose patient file rings awfully familiar to that of the trigger-happy kid he once failed. The more they open up to one another, the more the psychiatrist realizes that this kid’s dealing with some major shit. That’s right, the kid sees dead people and they ain’t leavin’ his ass alone.
So back in ’99, you couldn’t escape from this movie. It came out of nowhere, the word of mouth could not be silenced, absolutely everyone went to see it, and if you’re like me, the ending was ruined for you because that’s the only damn thing anyone talked about that year. As a result, I’m not surprised it took me 12 years to give it another watch considering for a long time it’s been the “I see dead people” movie.
But don’t get me wrong, this was a damn good movie back then and it’s still a damn good movie now. In fact, it’s probably better now than it was in theaters. All I really remember about the experience of first seeing this with my dad was getting the poop scared right out of me, and even though I was more getting the fart scared out of me this latest time around, it was a lot easier to appreciate everything else that didn’t involve a young Mischa Barton barfing all over herself in a tent. Not that I really appreciated that back then anyway.
Man, M. Night Shyamalan struck gold with this script. Folks, this is Rod Serling shit, this is just great, surreal, original storytelling that rarely comes around and keeps the same people coming back for more because it’s an entirely different movie the second time you buy the ticket. But aside from the ending (which I’m not gonna mention in case one of the five people left on Earth who’ve never heard of this movie stumbles upon this review), there is so much quality going on here that totally deserves to be recognized.
Yeah, you might need to take some of it with a grain of salt and not wonder so much about what’s going on in these characters’ lives when the camera’s not there capture it, but this plot really is so well structured and carefully thought out from one scene to the next. It’s all in the details, it’s the stuff that comes off as subtle at first glance but ends up making you go “How did I miss that?” when the big picture finally comes together. It’s the bursts of red that stand out like a bloody CAUTION sign every time something ain’t right, it’s the way initially insignificant developments come full circle and turn into cornerstones, it’s the way you don’t even see any dead people until the kid lays it on his shrink.
I love that about this movie. I love the way it keeps us in the dark and only starts to unravel as fast as this kid is ready to open up. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to go into this movie blind, but I probably would have had a heart attack. This is some legitimately scary shit that had me plugging my ears like no other at the horrified age of 13. Granted, it’s pretty cheap when it goes from dead silence to blaring piano chords whenever a silhouette walks across a dark hallway, but there are a couple seriously quiet scares in there and it’s all quite eerie and unsettling regardless of the audio. Also dig that it’s more than just a horror thriller, it also happens to be a nice little meditation on living with death and moving on from it. Definitely missed that the first time around and it’s a major strength that elevates it from the realm of Hollywood blockbuster.
And on top of the story there’s a handful of actors who all rock it, too.
Alright, Bruce Willis only has one facial expression going for him the whole damn time, but it works. I liked his calm and controlled performance as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, it’s a swell complement to the overall mood and in a lot of ways he’s just as interesting as the kid who sees ghosts for Chrissakes. But even if this was BW’s magnum opus, Haley Joel Osment would still steal the show and would still doom himself to a life as That Kid. Unfortunate that he’s now in the same ranks as Jonathan Lipnicki because he holds his own like a pro and this was not an easy role for a ten-year-old to pull off. And Toni Collette is also fantastic as his mom, although she also has to bow down to the HJO when push comes to shove. Geez, what the hell happened to that kid?
But M. Night Shyamalan…
The dude sold this script for a cool $2M, demanded to be the director to boot, and he got his wish like a boss even though the only thing he had under his belt was some shitty Rosie O’Donnell movie that no one saw. That kind of royal treatment doesn’t happen a whole lot to Hollywood newbies and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the apple has continued to fall farther and farther from the tree with each new failed attempt to reach the bar he set for himself here. But for a movie that’s been a borderline cliche’ for a while now, I was surprised by how awesome The Sixth Sense still is. It’s so bittersweet considering the riotous laughter that broke out in the theater when Shyamalan’s name came up during those Devil trailers, and as much I wish the guy would quit digging his own ditch already, there’s a reason this was such a big hit and there’s a reason so many people actually went to see The Happening. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be another Sixth Sense.