Film Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1999 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I want to tell you my secret now.” – Cole Sear

For those that don’t remember the world in 1999, The Sixth Sense scared about as many people as Y2K.

This is a creepy film that penetrated the subconscious of its audience and went on to make its director, M. Night Shyamalan, one of Hollywood’s new “it boys” at the time.

I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater but being that this is its twentieth anniversary, I wanted to revisit it.

It’s not as good as I remembered it and for a long time, I considered it Shyamalan’s second best film after Unbreakable. It is still a much better than decent picture but it is sort of ruined by knowing the twist. However, it was also sort of diminished by knowing young Cole’s secret thanks to the marketing of the film in 1999.

Seeing this now, it is eerie from start to finish but the fact that you were clued in to the fact that Cole can “see dead people” before ever seeing the film, really takes away from that reveal. Plus, you go through half of this film before you actually see a ghost on screen. The first half of the film, had you not known the secret, could have been interpreted as Cole having severe mental issues.

Cole’s secret isn’t the big plot twist though, that comes at the end when it is revealed that Bruce Willis’ Crowe has been dead since the opening scene. I remember being in the theater and hearing everyone gasp when this was spelled out to the audience. That caught me by surprise, as I detected the twist pretty early on and just assumed the audience was supposed to know this all along. There were just too many hints that spelled it out for me before it had to be audibly stated and confirmed by the characters.

I think that the film is effective in how it creates atmosphere and makes you connect to its characters. The thing is, this feels more like a solid pilot for a show than a self contained story within a single film. I think that maybe this should have been a film series or at least found a way to be ongoing on television or books even. I left this film wanting to see Cole do good work in bringing tortured souls some peace.

This film did a nice job of sort of legitimizing horror and making it a bit more mainstream at the time. But the following decade wouldn’t be too kind to the genre, anyway. And this isn’t so much horror at its core, as it just happens to be a solid drama about a child psychiatrist and his very troubled patient. There just happens to be dead people in the story.

My biggest mark against the film is that it is really drawn out and moves at a snail’s pace until dead people start showing up about 50 minutes into the movie. I do like slow builds and suspense but the first half of this movie could have been whittled down.

In the end, this still does a good job of making a real human connection with its audience and it conjures up a thick sense of dread. But I can’t really call The Sixth Sense a classic, despite its cultural impact for the time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Film Review: Unbreakable (2000)

Also known as: No Ordinary Man (working title)
Release Date: November 14th, 2000 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Touchstone Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, Barry Mendel Productions, Limited Edition Productions Inc., Buena Vista Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“It’s alright to be afraid, David, because this part won’t be like a comic book. Real life doesn’t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.” – Elijah Price/Mr. Glass

There was a time when seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s name on movie poster generated excitement. This came out during that time and fresh off the heels of The Sixth Sense, just a year earlier and also starring Bruce Willis.

When the film starts, you really have no idea as to where this story is going to go. In the end, it is a superhero origin story where one character becomes a hero and another character becomes something else. While there is a big twist to what that is, being that this film has been out for nearly two decades, that twist has been spoiled for anyone who has just talked about this movie with someone else who’s seen it.

Also, this is tied into the 2016 movie Split, as well as an upcoming sequel to both films called Mr. Glass. That comes out in January 2019 and it is the film I am most anticipating, right now. It’s also why I wanted to revisit this one, because I haven’t seen it in so long.

The story is a slow but satisfying burn. When you get to the seminal moment of the picture, where the hero has to decide if he’s going to be a hero, it’s comes with such emotional weight and impact that everything that inched towards that scene was well worth it.

Shyamalan, at this point in his career, knew how to build tension, emotion and narrative in every single scene. It was something that he lost, as time went on, but he seems to have found his mojo again with 2016’s Split. And frankly, I’m glad, because he had the makings of a great filmmaker but sort of just slid into a weird place for quite awhile.

This film and Split are my two favorites in Shyamalan’s filmography, with The Sixth Sense being right there with them.

The atmosphere in this film is incredible. The story is powerful while being very subtle. This is a superhero origin story that is so much better than most of the films that deal with the same sort of narrative. Comic book movies don’t need to be grandiose spectacles and this proves that. Oddly, it proved it about eight years before grandiose comic book movies became the norm. And while this isn’t based off of a comic book, I’m surprised this universe hasn’t spawned it’s own comic series. Maybe it will after the third film, next year.

Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson have done several films together and it is a treat, every. single. time. that they share the screen with one another. This is no different and to be honest, it’s my favorite of their collaborations. I want more of these two characters. Luckily, years later, we are going to get just that.

In the meantime, if you want to see Mr. Glass, you owe it to yourself to watch this and Split first.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequels: Split and the upcoming Mr. Glass.

Film Review: Devil (2010)

Also known as: The Night Chronicles: Devil
Release Date: September 17th, 2010
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan, Brian Nelson
Music by: Fernando Velaquez
Cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Geoffrey Arend, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Vargas

Media Rights Capital, The Night Chronicles, Universal Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“When he’s near, everything goes wrong. Toast falls jelly-side down, children hit tables, and people get hurt.” – Ramirez

After seeing Split, I have been pretty enthusiastic about the comeback of M. Night Shyamalan. So I figured that I’d revisit some of his works. While this isn’t directed by Shyamalan, it was his story and his production. I didn’t want to see it at the time of its release due to Shyamalan being in the midst of a horrible string of films that probably should have ruined his career. But what the hell, this was only 80 minutes and I figured I’d give it a shot.

The picture is a mixed bag. It isn’t shocking and it is pretty predictable but it isn’t as bad as the films Shyamalan was doing himself around this time, such as The Happening and The Last Airbender.

The acting was mediocre, the cinematography wasn’t very inspiring and the score was ineffective. While it might seem like I’m trashing the film, I still found it entertaining enough to fill its meager 80 minutes.

However, some of it was still a bit too dragged out. Really, the film could have been just as effective at 60 minutes, honestly. That just makes me question why this had to be a feature film though. Couldn’t this have fit better as a television episode in a horror anthology? There just isn’t enough to justify this story being a feature film. It seems like an idea that was interesting but was lacking in deeper thought and follow through from a writing standpoint.

It was also pretty hokey and cheesy, especially in regards to the Latino security guard who kept citing spooky tales his grandmother told him about the Devil. And truthfully, there is so much more that could have been explored regarding the Devil and the character’s motivation.

Devil is not a waste of time but it certainly is not a must-see picture, far from it. I didn’t hate it and I wasn’t annoyed by it. It just sort of exists in a state of limbo. Nothing was particularly bad and nothing was particularly good.

Film Review: Split (2016)

Release Date: September 26th, 2016 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: West Dylan Thordson
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis (uncredited)

Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

It has been a really long time since I have wanted to see an M. Night Shyamalan movie. When I first caught the trailer for Split, I was very intrigued. Then I saw Shyamalan’s name attached and thought, “Well, this might bring you back to greatness, buddy. Don’t screw it up.” After having seen this, I can say that he certainly didn’t screw it up.

James McAvoy has never put in anything other than great performances. In this film, we get to see McAvoy at his greatest, up to this point in his career. He’s still young and has a lot of years left but McAvoy gave us an Oscar caliber performance. Why he wasn’t nominated for anything is kind of baffling. Maybe it’s because this got a wide release in January of 2017 and he’ll be considered next year. But by that point, he won’t be fresh in the Academy’s minds and they snub lots of great performers every year.

Alongside McAvoy, is Anya Taylor-Joy, a young woman who is becoming quite a good actress. This is the best that I have seen her but now that she is joining the X-Men franchise in next year’s New Mutants, I think she has definitely made her mark and will have a busy career going forward. She certainly deserves it after her performance in Split.

Betty Buckley was superb as the therapist while Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula did a good job as the other girls held captive by McAvoy’s multiple personalities.

Brad William Henke stood out as the creeper uncle. I always love Henke’s work but he always gets the hulking creeper roles. I’d like to see him get bigger roles, the guy deserves it.

The film also gives us the obligatory M. Night Shyamalan cameo, as well as a Bruce Willis cameo. The Willis part ties into another great Shyamalan picture and ties these two movies together, as Shyamalan has plans to make a film that is a sequel to Split and that other movie.

Now I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, this isn’t a film that should be spoiled in any way. But I do want to explain why this works so well, as Shyamalan has struggled with narrative in the last decade and a half.

So, the only real spoiler is that Split has no big twist ending. Well, not really. I’ll explain.

It is a good solid story, it has a lot of revelations but none of those typical Shyamalan attempts at dumping the film on its head while screaming, “A-ha! I shocked you! It’s a twist!”

You see, I feel like Shyamalan painted himself into a corner with his famous twist endings. It got to the point where a twist was expected and people spent the whole movie bracing themselves and also, trying to figure it out. Eventually, the twists became really mundane and weren’t all that shocking.

In some films, like The Village, it felt like Shyamalan couldn’t decide what to do. Should the beasts be real or imaginary? What he gave us was a bizarre and awful twist in that regard and then another twist that completely destroyed the film. The twists became messes that ruined otherwise effective pictures.

In Split, the big twist is that there is no twist. And maybe that is Shyamalan’s greatest use of the twist, whether that was his intention or not.

After a slew of films that just didn’t cut the mustard, Shyamalan proved to me and the rest of the film-going masses, that he’s still got it. He may have been lost for too long but he found himself once again. I hope he’s learned from those many mistakes because I want Shyamalan on his A-game. He’s extremely talented on his best days and he’s a director that has shown that he is much better than some of the schlock he’s put out. Split is proof enough that The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable weren’t flukes.