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Classic Movie ReviewsMovie ReviewsClassic Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)

leandromatos1981September 26, 201990/100
Starring
Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Writer
M. Night Shyamalan
Director
M. Night Shyamalan
Rating
PG-13 (United States)
Running Time
107 minutes
Overall Score
Rating Summary
The Sixth Sense the best ghost story to come by in a very long time with a masterful narrative that works on so many levels.

The Sixth Sense follows Malcolm Crowe (Willis), a child psychologist happily married to a woman named Anna (Olivia Williams). One night after a few drinks their house is broken in by Vincent (Donnie Wahlberg), a former patient of Malcolm’s who is still deeply disturbed. Malcolm was not able to help him as a child and Vincent showed up to let him know how much he suffered, before he shoots Malcolm in the stomach and then kills himself.

Malcolm feels deeply responsible for what happened to Vincent, so when a similar case shows up he makes extra effort to help. Cole (Osment) is an isolated boy who’s treated as a freak by everyone around him. His mother Lynn (Collette) tries her hardest to provide for them both alone since Cole’s father left them. But something deeply disturbing is happening to Cole and not his mother nor Malcolm are capable of understanding. He is frightened all the time, shaky, scared. Over time, Malcolm finally makes the boy open up and share his secret: he sees dead people, and is terrified by them. At first Malcolm doesn’t believe in him but in time he finally understands the boy is actually telling the truth. He then helps Cole to figure out a way to put his gifts to a better use.

The Sixth Sense came out of nowhere and became a huge blockbuster 20 years ago. No one knew who M. Night Shyamalan was at the time and he became a household name after the film. The film also invigorated Bruce Willis’ career (very much in need at the time) and shot Haley Joel Osment into the stratosphere – both were very much deserved.

Everyone knows The Sixth Sense‘s big twist but we still won’t spoil for those who don’t. The twist works amazingly well with the story, and also works very well while looking for the details upon a second viewing. What works most effectively here is that it is such a simple, down to earth concept that doesn’t weaken itself despite already knowing what it is. On the contrary: you admire it for the mastery of narrative that it actually is.

A common misconception about The Sixth Sense is that it is not a horror film. It shouldn’t be considered near the landmarks of the genre because it is so clearly a drama. It’s a story of a boy who sees ghosts. They frighten him for sure, but when you watch the film without paying attention to the hype you’ll notice there’s very little to actually be scared of. It’s psychological for sure but the jump scares are quite few. And most importantly: it thrives as a drama.

There is an easy allegory here of people not seeing the truth that is is right in front of them. We create ways to diverge from what we can’t handle and we end up seeing only what we want to. But there are other elements here that are quite good. Cole needs to embrace his freakiness is very empowering to young kids, but maybe the most important idea The Sixth Sense delves into is that we cannot let our fears block us from living; we need to face our fears, to make them work in our favor, to be confident enough to know that we can handle what life brings us.

Some visual elements are quite interesting in the story. The choice of shooting the film in Pennsylvania gives it a perfect climatic ambiance that exists so effortlessly in the east coast, helping to create this mood that passes through all the film. The streets are old, the buildings are old, and the cars, and the stairs, and everything seems to come with a lot of story and background. Collette’s hairstyle, makeup and costumes are perfect to make us understand who this mother is. We get her right in her first frame.

However, the reason The Sixth Sense works so well is the cast. Willis is just okay as Malcolm and it’s hard to imagine people expecting him to give more than what she shows here. Wahlberg is heartbreaking in a 5-minute scene as Vincent. He has very little screen time, but we can sense how disturbed he is. Collette is an amazing Lynn; you can see how fierce she is in defending her baby even though she doesn’t understand what’s happening to him. Her car scene with Cole is just great great acting. It’s touching, it’s weird and it’s exaggerated to the right amount, again perfectly revealing who this woman is. But the standout here truly is Osment as Cole. He is so gifted, so fantastic in all of his scenes, it’s a delight to watch him perform.

The Sixth Sense is a great ghost story. A fantastic psychological thriller. An amazing drama. Pick your choice. Either way, you won’t regret it.

*still courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures*


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