The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Sixth Sense (1999)

Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: August 6th, 1999 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: M. Night Shyamalan Actors: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Trevor Morgan, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton




nna Crowe (Olivia Williams) descends into the cellar to retrieve a bottle of wine. In an exquisite moment of defining an atmosphere, she seems to sense a strange presence, and then shivers for a second. It isn’t exactly foreshadowing, but it turns an otherwise inconspicuous moment into something a touch nerve-wracking. Rejoining her husband, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), by the fireplace, she reads aloud the inscription on a recently received plaque, straight from the mayor, thanking Malcolm for his work as a child psychologist in Philadelphia. When they make their way upstairs to the bedroom, they’re surprised by an intruder – one of the doctor’s former patients. He’s disturbed and violent and wields a gun, which he uses to shoot Malcolm in the stomach before killing himself.

The next fall, Dr. Crowe is working on a new case study: a 9-year-old boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). The child is quiet and intelligent, but lies, steals, has scratches on his wrists, and is an outcast in school. He seems calm enough, but there’s definitely something amiss. At Cole’s home, his mother Lynn (Toni Collette) contends with strange activities, such as kitchen cabinets and drawers that spontaneously open – but only when Cole is around, and to which he has few reactions, other than to worry about whether or not his mother thinks badly of him. Later, the boy has hysterical outbursts in school, which angers his teachers and causes further bullying by classmates. As Crowe continues to visit the boy, he hopes to solve the mystery of Cole’s erratic behavior and to uncover his dark secrets – but the main one is far too devastating to comprehend so easily.

Right from the start, Osment is sensational, emoting substantially with expressions alone, but also wholly capable of delivering his lines convincingly. Casting child actors is tricky, especially when they’re in the lead role, but Osment is no mistake – this is his film and he makes it work. He also nicely complements Willis, who takes on a more subdued, contemplative persona, unlike his action turns in the ’80s (a bedtime story scene is particularly well done) – along with Collette, who is superb, sharing another moving moment in which the two have a tearful meal at the dinner table. Fortunately, there are no weak links here, even in the minor, supporting parts, which is essential in a psychological horror film – especially one with supernatural elements.

“I don’t want to be scared anymore.” “The Sixth Sense” is a horror picture on the outside, but it also does a striking job of examining an agitated child, how others perceive pathologies, and how people cope with tragedies and disquieting attitudes. There’s even a love story at its center, and a sadness surrounding the boy’s paranoia. But more than anything else, Cole’s “gift” – the crux of the story – is unforgettable. It’s a creative, haunting attribute that sets the stage for numerous, expertly crafted sequences of terror. And though it has long been spoiled by trailers, advertising, and word of mouth, this revelation (which, on occasion, doesn’t play by its own rules) doesn’t even reveal itself until nearly an hour into the picture.

On top of that, “The Sixth Sense” boasts a startling twist ending – a trope that isn’t a stranger to the genre, but one that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan uses perfectly. Unfortunately, with this film’s blockbuster success – it’s one of the most notable of the year – Shyamalan’s filmmaking inventiveness would deteriorate, stuck on repeating his signature tricks until they can no longer be taken seriously. Here, however, in only his third movie, Shyamalan is in top form. Music by James Newton Howard additionally aids in forming alternately frightful and emotional scenarios, while gimmicks with sound editing, unnerving camera angles, subtle visual cues, and gruesome makeup effects complete a project that is truly unlike anything before it. “The Sixth Sense” is an impressively well-rounded, triumphant thriller, full of complex psychological ideas and unexpectedly positive themes that transcend its typical classification as a mere horror flick.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10