"The Sixth Sense" Review
© 2000 Fontaine L.
- spoiler warning -

Well don't I feel like a dumb butt now. Back then when "The Sixth Sense" trailers started appearing in theaters, I was skeptical. It looked like just another "Mercury Rising," and clips of Bruce Willis staring off into space and that oh so skillful delivery of "I see dead people" by Haley Joel Osmont (wonder boy of the year) really turned me off to the movie. Then whaddya know, it became a hit, and everyone started talking about it; yet I stubbornly refused to see it. Well sue me for being suspicious about a Bruce Willis flick. Thus is the saga of how one afternoon I asked my friend to just tell me what the ending was that everyone was so excited over.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I didn't know that I would have decided to see it one year later at a school event. And let me tell ya, I really wish I hadn't found out about the surprise ending before I saw the movie. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. That's not to say I didn't find "Sense" a refreshing counterpoint to slasher flicks like "Scream 3," which I enjoyed equally as much for a different reason. If I had to pick one word to describe "Sixth Sense" it would be "intense." The film exudes quiet intensity for all of its, what, 110 minutes? From beginning to end, never a moment that wasn't unsettling. I credit this to the set designers and lighting people, who arranged the setting so that it almost seems painted with a tangible, morbid gray; yet just as it is with some hideous creature that hides in the light, we are unable to point out what exactly about the sunny streets of Philadelphia is frightening us and filling us with dread. All this is nicely complimented by the score by James Newton Howard, who seems to have been taking quite a few notes from Mark Snow. The camera sulks stealthily from situation to situation; and with the aid of fade ins and outs we feel like we're watching the fragments of Malcolm's (Bruce Willis) life torn asunder. The effect is an eery film that quietly creeps up on you unlike other horror films; yet it is different from "The Blair Witch Project" in that it does show us the ghosts, sometimes with maybe too much flair on the part of the director. That we could have done without. Otherwise the film manages to spook us out without grossing us out too much; some great moments include Cole (Osmont) banging on the attic door at a friend's party and the video tape viewing at the funeral service. Moments like these manage to send shivers down our spine without using too much blood and gore. I give points for that.

Aside from Bruce Willis, who was probably chosen for his star power rather than suitability to the role, the few characters in this film were all wonderfully cast. Olivia Williams is sympathetic as the pale, sorrowful widow (she seems born to play the pale sorrowful widow), and Toni Collette is subtle as a young woman, seemingly barely in her twenties, who doesn't seem to quite know how to handle motherhood, two jobs, and the loss of a parent at the same time. And Haley, Haley, Haley. I'm sorry for underestimating you. Turns out you might give Jonathan Lipnicki a run for his money. As a child who is naturally adorable (and you can see that sometimes, during the rare instances when Cole smiles in the film), you gotta give the kid credit for walking around convincingly frightened and stubborn throughout the majority of the movie. When he delivers his lines, you want to inch closer to the screen to hear the child speak. When he cowers in fear, we feel part of ourselves huddle along with him in fear of something WE ourselves fear the most. Whatever it is must be dreadful. He is so frail that if you reach out you are afraid that you're going to break him. Yet when he speaks, you listen. That's how good Haley was. And no, not even Bruce Willis was half bad.

Now "Sense" left a lot of things unexplained, such as just why the ghosts do not realize they're dead (I mean, heck, what do they EAT? And don't they notice that everyone's ignoring them?), why didn't Anna (Olivia Williams) just dial 911 for God's sake, how one little kid is supposed to serve as the principal complaint bureau for the entire underworld population, how DUMB can a doctor in child's psychology be in not figuring out why his wife is depressed, and why aren't there any evil ghosts? However I am willing to give the film some leeway because in not striving to give everything a LOGICAL explanation, it gives everything an EMOTIONAL explanation. That's why we believe that when Cole gives his mother the message from Grandma, we believe everything's going to be okay. We believe that when Malcolm finally realizes the truth about his existence, everything's going to be okay. I loved how even though the film was hawked as something that would scare the poop out of people by showcasing the supernatural, it snuck in jabs at humanity as well. Even barely-there characters such as the befuddled, agitated school teacher, the nonchalant parents of the other children, Anna's young, inexperienced suitor, and the deceiving (step?)mother at the funeral register in our minds as painfully realistic reflections of everyday walks of life. They were supposed to make us scream, but they made us cry instead.

We were fooled. Up until eighty percent of the movie, we thought we were watching a thriller/horror flick; with the last ten or fifteen minutes or so the film does a sudden turn around and points out to us the theme that was there along: humanity. Sometimes ugly, but mostly marvelous (this time, anyway) humanity. We survived the transition from horror to drama, and we're okay. The whole thing was strangely cathartic.

Rating: A- (First viewing, 3/5/00)