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The Sixth Sense   C+

Hollywood Pictures

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Glenn Fitzgerald, Mischa Barton, Donnie Wahlberg.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

With all the hoopla surrounding this movie's "unpredictable" and "shocking" surprise ending, you'd think that one wouldn't be able to guess it before actually seeing the movie. In fact, I had read nothing about The Sixth Sense's plot when I figured out the ending. I had seen the trailer. Ooh, it has a kid who sees dead people and Bruce Willis is a psychologist trying to help him out. Wouldn't it be cool if...?

Sorry, I won't spoil it for those of you who still haven't seen it. But if you're smart you might be able to figure it out at least halfway through the movie -- or, if you're really smart, the opening scene will probably give it away. The hints that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan scatters throughout this lonely, quasi-spiritual narrative are quite obvious, but since the majority of the moviegoing public don't like to think and take everything at face value, it went right over their heads. And when it did hit them at the end, they were all duped into believing that they just saw a great movie. But The Sixth Sense isn't much more than a cool concept -- with a very well executed start and finish -- in search of a good film.

At the disturbing, highly effective start of the film, child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) and his wife are celebrating after Malcolm wins a prestigious award for his achievement in his field. They retire to their bedroom, only to discover that a former patient has broken in and is now standing, stripped down to his tightie-whities, in their bathroom. The guy shoots Malcolm, then turns the gun on his own head.

Months later, Malcolm is still trying to piece together his life after the tragedy. He and his wife hardly ever speak, and he's plagued by guilt that he failed that one patient. He tries to help a troubled young boy named Cole (Haley Joel Osment), who is called a freak by kids at school. Of course, you already know Cole's problem ("I see dead people"), and quite a problem that is. Haven't you guessed the "surprise" ending by now?

While most of the accolades for The Sixth Sense have been given to Haley Joel Osment's performance, the one that stood out most for me was that of Toni Collette as his frustrated yet caring single mother. Her performance hits the ball right out of the park, and it moved me in ways I didn't expect. Sure, the kid's great, and Willis' subtle, quiet performance is an effective departure from most of the things he's done in the past.

While the movie does have some fleeting moments of creepiness and power, The Sixth Sense ultimately collapses inward on the strength of its opening and closing. The padding that fills most of the film is repetitious and slow; the photography is beautiful, however. But even though I had predicted the big surprise at the end, the revelation still worked. Most of you will have to watch the movie a second time to see if the filmmakers cheated you in some way. Rest assured, they played by the rules, and you'll be slapping yourself on the back of the head wondering why you didn't see it coming the first time around.

Review published 03.31.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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