Arman's Review of The Sixth Sense
The Sixth Sense(1999)
Initial Score: 7.4
-Too many horror/supernatural films focus on scaring and bewildering the audience with otherworldly creatures rather then involving us with their significance in relation to the leads. The Sixth Sense fortunately is in the latter category, although there are a few tastefully controlled scare tactics at play it's largely a drama that attempts to develop (and at times hinder) the relationships between the characters. The problem with The Sixth Sense lies in it's reliance on characters who aren't properly realized into plausible humans as much as they are puppets to the plot save for one person. It's refreshing to see a ghost story through a unique lens however, such a lens is dimmed by an all too solemn cast and sluggish pace that sucks much of the life out of the cinematic experience. There are too many scenes that don't serve any vital purpose they just meander through the film masquerading as setting the tone of the film when in reality they're simply filler. That being said The Sixth Sense is a powerful story of connection and disconnection. I appreciate M. Night Shyamalan's efforts to develop the relationship between 2 of the leads however, in the process of neglecting 2 other vital characters relegating them to plot points much of the emotional punch is softened.
-Bruce Willis in a change of pace to broaden his range stars as Malcolm Crowe a highly respected child psychologist who has a brush with death after being shot by an unsatisfied former patient. Cue to next fall where he seems to have made a full recovery yet is still haunted by what he perceives as a failing on his part (have you noticed how so many protagonist idealists seem to take on the burden of the world and are stunned when they inevitably fail?). Enter Cole Sear played perfectly by Haley Joel Osment who is an unusually emotionally withdrawn child exhibiting symptoms similar to Crowe's former patient so in him Crowe sees his chance for redemption.
-Most of the time is devoted to the give and take exchanges between Crow and Sear which is both a blessing and curse because Haley Joel Osment isn't your typical child actor lacking in the subtleties and compensating with youthful charm. He understands the material well enough to take the serious subject matter head on. Bruce Willis best known for snappy one liners and an all or nothing attitude, isn't the first name most people think of when trying to come up with actors who have a knack for keeping a mental journal of their emotions and The Sixth Sense doesn't help shatter the reputation either. He overstates every line making all too obvious what would otherwise be better implied or not said at all. Less is usually more however, in the case of The Sixth Sense less is too much because so much of Willis's lines depend on extracting a quality of subtlety that isn't there that illuminate further to the uselessness of so many scenes within the painfully slow pace of it all. By the end of it you'll be hoping for a seventh sense in which you gain the power to be amused by what would usually bore you however, such an ability isn't required because the film is saved By Osment. He thankfully gets most of the lines and most of the screen time which he uses to display his understanding of Cole's internal conflict balanced against his fear of being left abandoned by the one person who can help him or at least thinks he can.
-Cole's famous line "I see dead people" should come to no surprise to anyone who's seen the trailer beforehand, or the title of the film. The Sixth Sense has been billed as a psychological thriller but aside from a powerful ending there is nothing truly thrilling about the plodding. If anything it's the anti thriller, M. Night Shyamalan continually tests his audience's patience right through to the end as if building up towards something that won't materialize on screen. It would be more accurate to describe this movie as a character study between troubled patient and troubled doctor each helping the other to get closer to the end of their personal crises and in the process building a bond others will not or possibly even couldn't understand.
-The long periods of shallow, murky, nothingness doesn't mar the film as much as the introduction of Malcolm's wife Anna (Olivia Williams) as a central character, yet after the first 15 minutes or so she is relegated to a painful reminder of Malcolm's shaky marriage rather then an actual human with mind and motivation of her own. The other central female character Cole's mom Lynn (Toni Collette) struggles to recognize and address the mental state of her son and I'm not sure which is the greater tragedy: Her inability to understand her son or the audience's inability to understand her as a person rather then a plot point.
-The Sixth Sense is M. Night Shyamalan's outlet for communicating his thoughts on life after death and in that context there's a great film buried here somewhere because what he has to say is substantial. However, the message is buried under too many layers of on screen trampling of the plot so the themes on display don't rise to the surface as much as they are dragged kicking and screaming. There's simply too much of too little going on here, it seems M. Night Shyamalan has mistaken hollow scenes for being moody or atmospheric when in reality it's simply retreading of the ideas introduced earlier just in a different way. With the exception of Cole everyone in The Sixth Sense are not people any of us could reasonably expect to meet let alone interact with for any period of time because people are dynamic, people have different facades and by watching The Sixth Sense you'd think people are supposed to be robotic in displaying range of emotion or enlightenment. There's a great premise, a great performance, some great dialog, but like my favorite and in my opinion the world's most insightful critic Roger Ebert said: "Movies are not about what they're about, they're about how they're about it".