Oh, I'm detecting an error in the title, because if this boy is supposed to have some kind of a new sense that allows him to interact with the dearly departed, then this film should be "The Eighth Sense", as you also have to take into account sense of humor and common sense. I'd imagine there are plenty of people who would say that joke reflects that have neither, but really, I still feel like the counting is off, because you also have that sense where you taste things a little bit when their scent gets really far into your sense of smell, or at least that's what I learned from Peter Griffin when he was trashing on Christina Aguilera. For the record, I haven't been crazy about "Family Guy" since its return from cancellation way back in 2005, so I don't know if my reference to that throw-away little cutaway is cheesier than my joke about the seven senses... or at least I didn't until I actually spelled that out and decided that, yes, the eight senses joke is cheesier. Yeah, let's pay some respect here and cut the corn, because after "Wide Awake" in 1998, I'm sure M. Night Shyamalan was glad to be doing quite the serious piece of dramatic cinema... before getting way back into the cheesiness. Yeah, Shyamalan has gained a tendency to corn things up in relatively recent years, but hey, at least his career's still intact after this film that was intended to break him out, either because he doesn't have a brother who ended up being more marketable (Sorry, Donnie Wahlberg), or because he wasn't caught with drugs in his car. Hm, after that incident, I wonder if Haley Joel Osment can actually see his career, because it is dead and, as coincidence would have it, has had to resort to doing voice work in "Kingdom Hearts" video games. You really can't see his James Van Der Beek eyes, at least for no, but until Osment gets back into the live-action film business, we have our memories, which are pretty sweet when you consider this film, at least until clouded by some missteps.
As screenwriter, M. Night Shyamalan delivers on subtly meaty characterization that keeps gradual expository depth adequate in this drama which is heavily driven by its characters, and yet, if there are holes in expository depth of this film, then they are gaping, certainly not to where you're all that distances from the characters, but decidedly to where you feel as though more should be said about the depths of this story and its characters. Only so much is said about the characters in this undercooked drama, but really, it's not like there is all that much to say here, because, like most of M. Night Shyamalan's succeeding efforts, where this thriller could have had more activity with its intense subject matter, Shyamalan ultimately chooses to structure a narrative concept that is most interested in steady rises to intensity rather than actual intensity, and while Shyamalan's story is sharp enough to compel in spite of its minimalism, the point is that minimalism stands, limiting the weight of this drama, maybe even challenging your investment. A good bit of meat is found here and there throughout this basic story concept, but there's still something kind of distancing here, and Shyamalan's directorial interpretation of this somewhat thin story concept isn't exactly frequent in making compellingness all the more prominent, because even though Shyamalan's all but trademark steady approach to minimalist subject matter is backed by enough heart to keep you engaged through and through, there are those time where plot momentum slows down, and atmospheric momentum joins, driving the film into blandness. Granted, the film never slips so low that it hits the dreaded point of dullness, and it's not like the film even gets to be that bland in its steadiness, but Shyamalan's ambition to make a very meditative dramatic thriller sometimes backfires on him, and yet, the backfire is hardly all that severe. Atmospheric limpness creates a sense of aimlessness at times, sure, but on the whole, atmospheric limpness isn't so much a big problem with this film as much as it is an opportunity for you to meditate on how structural pacing really holds the film back, because even though there's enough subtle dynamicity to plotting to keep you reasonably invested, when plotting drags, it bloats itself with repetitious material, and plenty of it, limiting rises and falls in momentum and giving you more than enough time to figure out the possible surprises in this thriller, - excluding the twist, that is - until what you end up with is a drama that never loses too much momentum, yet still slowly, but surely, loses steam, until the final product sputters out short of what it could have been. Yeah, flaws are pretty limited in this film, which is far from short on considerable strengths, but those subtle little missteps end up going a long way in reflecting limitations in potential, which is considerable, make no mistake, but thin enough for underwhelmingness to be a possibility, and for excellence to not be. The film is too improvable to even make it as truly strong, yet don't go thinking that the final product isn't rewarding, because through all of the natural and consequential shortcomings, this is a good story done very good justice, even in something as simple as the musical aspects.
After the obscure "Praying with Anger" and the just plain forgotten "Wide Awake", M. Night Shyamalan, through this film, really broke into the business, and did so with the help of the great James Newton Howard, who has since never left Shyamalan's side, which is good, considering the scoring talents of Howard that can even be seen in this, Shyamalan's and Howard's first collaboration, which isn't all that impressive, but relatively refreshing in its being defined by a tasteful brood which carries an unconventional and chilling beauty, married with subtle atmospheric intensity. This film's very atmospheric score set the tone for Shyamalan's and Howard's business relationship every bit as much as it helped in setting the tone for this film, having enough uniqueness to it to play a role in distinguishing the final product, yet still not being as unique as the story concept behind the film itself. Again, there's only so much development and dynamicity to this interpretation of a story concept that has only so much meat, therefore there's only so much kick to storytelling, but not so little that it's difficult to appreciate Shyamalan's ultimately worthy story concept, which is unique, with a rich potential for thrills and drama that more potential for strength than underwhelmingness, which is ultimately eluded by what is done right in Shyamalan's execution of such a conceptually intriguing story. As a screenwriter, Shyamalan delivers enough subtle characterization to do an adequate job of compensating for expository shortcomings, but it's Shyamalan's directorial atmosphere that most challenges shortcomings, for although atmospheric storytelling often runs out of meaty material to soak up, resulting in limp spells, on the whole, Shyamalan's meditativeness stays comfortable enough to keep dullness at bay, and when momentum picks up about as much as it can in a thriller that has only so many thrills to offer, tension is firmly established, broken up by, if not seamlessly bonded with effective dramatic resonance organically enough to really draw you in. It all comes down to that legendary little twist, which is justly praised, not just because it is audaciously clever and strikingly surprising, but because it is anchored by a heavy dramatic weight that tightly resolves the depths of the final product and really satisfies on a cerebral and emotional level as a height in Shyamalan's directorial effectiveness, which is consistently worthy, enough so to secure reward value, but not without help. When the haunted spirits who plague our leads pop in, they all but steal the show with their effectiveness as supporting players, with Donnie Wahlberg being dramatically revelatory in his all too quickly abandoned role, but it's the leads who really carry this film, with young Haley Joel Osment once again reminding us of how he got be a key influence in the recent movement to raise dramatic acting standards for child performers by being powerfully convincing in his layered, emotionally charged portrayal of a deeply disturbed and fearful lad who goes haunted by both distanced, maybe even cruel peers who cannot connect with him, as well as by terrifying images that connect with him too deeply, while Bruce Willis also proves to be effective in his portrayal of a good, respectable man who struggles to mend the stability of a disturbed boy he can relate to and may not be able to save, while struggling with his own demons as a flawed man who his himself haunted by his failures. The humanly moving performances that Osment and Willis turn in carry the film quite some distance, but they're not the only driving forces behind this drama, because in spite of the subtle, but ultimately considerable shortcomings that hold full potential back, there is enough inspiration on and off of the screen to carry the final product as rewarding as both a meditative thriller and deeply thoughtful drama.
Bottom line, limited development and atmospheric coldness call your attention more towards natural shortcomings in this relatively minimalist story concept, though not as much as the aimlessness that leaves steam to gradually die down behind repetitious dragging, until the final product falls short of its full potential, but not so short that effectively atmospheric score work, strong acting and viscerally effective steady storytelling behind an intelligently unique and well-layered story concept don't prove to be enough to make "The Sixth Sense" a generally tense and emotionally satisfying meditative thriller.
3/5 - Good