H'ween Horrorthon: 'The Sixth Sense' (1999)
Revisiting the film that made M. Night Shyamalan a household name - about a boy with a terrifying gift.
"I see dead people."
"In your dreams? While you're awake?
"Dead people like, in graves? In coffins?"
"Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead."
"How often do you see them?"
"All the time. They're everywhere."
The pivotal revelation scene between Haley Joel Osment (Cole Sear) and Bruce Willis (Dr. Malcolm Crowe).
Hello one and all.
This groundbreaking film released in 1999 was one of the last skillfully made horror films of the 20th Century. Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan was a virtual unknown when he made this film, releasing it in the late summer; but the film had a colossal impact on audiences and dared to be that rare film that touched upon fear as a possible healing tool rather than an emotion of dread. What's most telling about it is that rather than being a scary film loaded with "boo" moments, it managed to be about something more: about the healing process and about closure.
I'll be the first to admit that while I walked away giving the film an initial positive review; I found the film to be more sad than actually scary. The film deals with two very sad characters. One is Dr. Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis in a role that proved he was more than just a one-liner slinging action star); a child psychologist forced to rethink his skills as a doctor when a former patient returns to his home demanding answers for his failure to treat his condition. The child as an adult (a chilling Donnie Wahlberg from TV's "Blue Bloods") pulls out a pistol and shoots Dr. Crowe in the stomach and then, commits suicide. His distraught wife (Olivia Williams) is beside herself and tries to revive a rather shocked and dazed Crowe.
Next scene: Crowe is evaluating his next case study. A lonely boy with no friends–the second sad character–named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment in his superb Oscar-nominated performance at the tender age of 11). He's reclusive. Highly-intelligent, but very fidgety and anxious. He cannot socialize or interact on account of his living in constant fear of the world around him. His few moments of interaction are met with abuse, rejection and even all-out episodes of self-harm. In the quote mentioned above, the "secret" he finally reveals is that he is able to see apparitions all the time and can never seem to function in the real world because of them.
The 1999 Movie Poster.
He's basically a medium, but is unable to control when he sees them or how they communicate with him. Dr. Crowe is at first skeptical about his condition, but then, finds proof when he finds a pre-recorded session of his former patient delineating that his condition was very similar to Cole's. In an effort to solve the problem, Dr. Crowe suggests talking back to them to see what they need or to inquire why they are still lingering in the present. One very effective scene is when Cole meets a ghost, (a young Mischa Barton) - a young girl who herself harbors a secret as to how she died. This starts the path to healing for both of them. But, Cole, who is finally able to reveal his secret to his already-frazzled mother (Toni Collette); Crowe soon finds out that his own secret is about to be revealed in the last few minutes of the film.
Why reveal it? It was what made the film so enduring in the first place (I personally figured it out midway through the film before the actual "wedding ring" fell to the ground). Most people bought it lock, stock and barrel and this is what made Shyamalan a force to be reckoned with. The middle "twist" gave us the initial chill down our spine. The big final "twist" at the end was what wrapped the whole film together. Shyamalan would go on to savor success (and some failures and even scorn and ridicule) afterwards with films as diverse as "Unbreakable", "Signs", "The Village", "The Lady In The Water", "After Earth" and his 2015 return to form: "The Visit", with "Split" released this year. All of his films have some connection with each other; but this is the one film that made him a director with a knack for scaring his audience with the mere power of suggestion.
"The Sixth Sense" is scary...and sad. Great horror stories can always be both.
Fun Little Fact: M. Night Shyamalan cameoed as a doctor concerned for Cole's safety after a harrowing incident at a birthday party.
Next Up: The horror hotel that haunted us for ages.