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The Sixth Sense

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Sixth Sense

Starring: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton

Review by Walter Frith
3½ stars out of 4

The creators of my all time favourite television series 'The X-Files' would have killed for the opportunity to make an episode with the material as eerie as the stuff contained within 'The Sixth Sense'. This is right up their alley and if you love stories about the paranormal, the occult or good old fashioned ghosts, 'The Sixth Sense' is a film you definitely don't want to miss. It strings the audience along and keeps them in the palm of its hand and deserves to be one of 1999's best films on many critic's lists at the end of the year.

'The Sixth Sense' is a quiet, sometimes muted, and always surreal thriller that has psychological overtones that drum up memories of films past. It will scare the tar out of you at times and in a very tasteful manner I might add. But what makes it truly memorable is that it is not done in a conventional style with any recognizable formula but offers a plot twist that will be hard to spot since your mind will be on how the main character will resolve the fear regarding his sixth sense.

The real test of how good a film can be dramatically is to withdraw any extreme attempt to overwhelm the audience with a music score. Few films succeed at this but 'The Sixth Sense' carries itself extremely well and uses the afterlife as a metaphor and draws variations (not copies) from films such as 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'Ghost'.

Bruce Willis is Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who has a very respectable practice. So much so in fact that he wins awards from local dignitaries and has a wife (Olivia Williams) who loves him very much. One night at his Philadelphia home, a young adult breaks in and Malcolm discovers that it's a former patient from a decade or so ago who wasn't cured of his problems and he shoots Dr. Crowe in the stomach and then commits suicide. The film then skips forward to the following autumn and Malcolm counsels a young boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) with a very serious problem. Cole confesses: "I see dead people". This confession doesn't come easily. It happens about halfway through the film after some terrifying psychological teasing at the hands of his peers. He is ridiculed by other children his age and his mother has a difficult time dealing with her son's problems.

After Cole confesses that he sees the dead, Dr. Crowe diagnosis his case as paranoia and no one believes he is actually telling the truth. There are signs throughout the film that not only can the boy see the dead but he can actually hear them and communicate with them as well. 'The Sixth Sense' then takes a strange and sudden twist that will leave you breathless during the film's final few minutes.

Bruce Willis is good in his role but he falls into the classic trap of acting with either animals or children who upstage him. In this case it is 11-year old Haley Joel Osment who gives a heart breaking, strong and eerie performance as the child with the gift that is more like a curse. Osment's performance should bring him an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. You may remember him as Tom Hanks' little boy in 'Forrest Gump'. Strangely, in a supporting role he manages to be the main character as the film's entire arc is built around him.

29-year old writer/director M. Night Shyamalan deserves a lot of praise for crafting a film with intelligence, emotion and one that will give you a lot of after thought. The reason it does is that all of the people that the boy sees have died of violent or unnatural deaths. There is no mercy in its look at what the afterlife may be like when the soul leaves the body unexpectedly and one man's idea of what it may be like is as valid as anyone else who has tried it in a similarly sophisticated fashion in the past.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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