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.