October 13th, 1999

Sixth Sense

by Stephanie Segal • in Films
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sixth senseThis is a movie I expected not to like. As a rule, I don’t like Bruce Willis’ films. This may stem from the fact that I promised myself I would stop throwing money away on testosterone fests like Die Hard. Add to this that the movie trailer for the 6th Sense annoyed me. It was done almost completely in whisper and — lookey here! — Bruce Willis was in it. But on a freed-up Saturday afternoon, watching it would have meant, at worst, a nice air-conditioned nap during the summer heatwave. At best, the kid I’d caught on Leno and who’d impressed me would impress me again.

I did like this movie — a lot. I would see it again, for full price even. This is a scary movie that has none of the juvenility usually associated with scary movies. Nary a gratuitous scene, overdone cliché or stitch of overacting. But it is not just a scary movie. It’s more thriller than horror. Intense and unpredictable, it plays on more emotions than fear alone. It moves along without losing or confusing, holding your attention right to the end credits. Sitting in the afterglow of the ending, I did think, ‘Cheesy’. But that may have been ‘pissed-off-that-I-didn’t-call-it’ thinking. Walking about afterward, going over the movie in my head, making connections, trying to find flaws and discussing the movie with people who’d also seen it, I changed my mind. That ending made me unable to watch the movie and simply dismiss it. It stayed with me, occupying mind space and demanding attention. A rarity with a major Hollywood production featuring one Bruce Willis. The ending exposes a puzzle you’re compelled to put together afterward, having been supplied with all the right pieces. It isn’t fed to you.

Instead of presenting a review that could give away any of this greatly original plot, I will focus on some highs (many!) and lows (few!). Suffice it to say that this story could very easily have been done in such a way that no audience could have taken it seriously. This is not the case. It is pulled off to a tee.

Kudos to the Casting Director
Usually a film centering around a child actor is a film to be avoided, but Haley Joel Osment is a pro. He reminds the viewer with his convincing presence what it’s like to be many things: scared (Osment carries off so many levels of fear), young, out of the in-crowd in grade school. He is not off a single scene. And the other kids’ performances are strong and real.

The casting of the female leads is perfect. No bimbos! Toni Colette, who won over audiences in Muriel’s Wedding, is brilliant in her role, making you want both to call your mother and to have a son. One of Colette’s scenes had me crying in a way that only seeing your own parent cry can. Hello, Academy? Make with the awards. And Olivia Williams’ (Rushmore) beauty is brought to the surface and enhanced by her intelligence and charm.

Ok, and Bruce. This time he failed to repulse or disappoint me even once. He is warm and paternal and, playing this character to the hilt, quite attractive. The strength of the cast around him has him rising to the occasion (or else I’ve underrated him as an actor and he is simply proving himself here). Special mention is deserved by an emaciated and nearly unrecognizable Donnie Wahlberg. His performance is brief but spectacular and lasting. He gives 110 per cent and you can feel it. If there is a weakness to this film, it cannot be found in the acting.

The music in the movie is excellent, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It makes you feel, it manipulates. When that slow creepy music started I held on to myself, thinking, ‘Ok, Stephanie, here comes something that’s going to scare you. Be bigger than it. You know it’s coming, it can’t work.’ I still had the shit scared out of me and was thoroughly creeped out. Two days later and I’m still looking over my shoulder after sounds I know must be nothing. Jumpy. Stephen King did this to me as a teenager when I had to put my books front-cover-side down in order to fall asleep. No one has done it since. Shyamalan, who wrote AND directed AND appears in the film, has got skills. Academy? Are you getting any of this?

“Look at my face.”
Read my lips: this phrase is used one time too many in the movie. Colette is astounding in her ability to say the line each time with total sincerity, but whoever is responsible for bringing this singularly overdone sentimentality to the Sixth Sense deserves a kick in the shin.

The ad for Sixth says ‘Not every gift is a blessing’. That Saturday night I saw the film was windy. More than 12 hours later, alone, I told myself it was silly to be freaked by some banging windows and blowing shower curtains. Sure, I’d been entertained by a cool movie. (Gift? Yes.) But now I was at home checking behind shower curtains with bated breath and pounding heart. (Blessing? No.) See The Sixth Sense. But don’t blame me when you decide to set the thermostat ten degrees warmer.

The Sixth Sense. Directed by M Night Shyamalan. Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis, Toni Colette, Olivia Williams. Released: August 1999.


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