The Sixth Sense was not only M. Night Shyamalan’s ticket to Hollywood fame but also remains one of the best horror movies ever made. So many horror films are preoccupied with blood, gore, the occult, and finding the most inventive way to deprive characters of their lives and/or limbs. Some are more tasteful than others, and some manage to combine their frights with comedy or action elements that still make for enjoyable entertainment. Yet few horror films reach the dramatic depths of The Sixth Sense.
The acting truly is phenomenal, from Bruce Willis’s tortured Dr. Crowe to Oscar nominee Toni Collette’s overwhelmed Lynn Sear. Yet Haley Joel Osment shines brighter than them all. Truly great child actors are rare; as much as I enjoy Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, his comedic and dramatic antics are clearly those of a likable child who has simply memorized his lines. Nothing about Osment’s performance feels forced or artificial. He displays convincing anxiety, melancholy, mental distress, and phasmophobia, not just for selected scenes but throughout the entire film. If ever an under-12 actor deserved an Oscar, it was Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense. (He lost to Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules.)
In addition to its famous quote (see below), the film is well-known for its infamous twist ending, which (along with Fight Club that same year) re-popularized such surprise conclusions. Sadly, the surprise was spoiled for me, thanks to a Ken Jennings trivia book, but in 1999, audiences were thoroughly blown away by Shyamalan’s clever tactics, which made The Sixth Sense a film to be studied rather than simply watched. The same effect has since been attempted with varying success by the likes of James Wan, Christopher Nolan, and Shyamalan himself, who has never quite reached the zenith of his first big hit.
Eschewing gore, The Sixth Sense still has the jump scares and tension that make for a good horror film, but everything is more subtle than usual scare fare, with a greater eye toward characters, clues, and color, such as the repeated presence of stark reds. Not everything is explained, such as the details of Cole’s first ghostly intervention, but the raw emotions and refined storytelling make up for any weaknesses. Another thing that sets this film apart from most horror films is its mostly positive outcome. There’s no evil triumphing, no unforeseen threat that might return for a sequel, just relieved reconciliation and bittersweet peace.
The Sixth Sense is Shymalan’s masterpiece. Unbreakable and Signs are Shyamalan’s only other films on my list, and it’s a shame that his reputation has fallen from such early heights. He seemed to do his best work with Bruce Willis, and they’re currently working together on Labor of Love for next year. Here’s hoping it will be a return to dramatic form for both of them.
Best line (the obvious): (Cole Sear) “I see dead people.”Rank: 56 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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