The Classics of Horror #20 – The Sixth Sense (1999)

Once upon a time, M. Night Shyamalan was the most promising director in Hollywood, not just a meme to make fun of.

Mostly, said reputation came from a masterpiece that blew everybody’s mind in the late 90s: The Sixth Sense.

On one hand, I’m glad to conclude this six-month long series with a truly great film; on the other, though, reviewing one of my all-time favourite movies is a challenge that both stimulate and scare me.

The Sixth Sense tells the story of a broken children psychologist – Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis – who tries to help grade schooler Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment, nominated at the Awards for his supporting cast role) to overcome what appears to be some serious psychotic issue.

The Sixth Sense 1Before “post horror” became a thing (is it really?), M. Night created a universe that gains credibility and strength from its combination of horror, drama, thriller and mystery. The balance between these sub-genres, perfectly blended together, makes for a unique viewing experience that has no precedes.

Sixth Sense 2The story develops brilliantly from beginning to end, due to its great writing (we’ll talk about the big twist later on) and astounding acting: Osment gives the best child performance in the history of Hollywood; his mom, portrayed masterfully by Toni Collette (why is she not in more movies?); Bruce Willis truly shines, in the decade that showed the world his acting skills at their finest. Even the small roles, played by mostly unknown actors, give depth and meaning to the overall story.

Without a single bit of lazy writing, The Sixth Sense flows seamlessly and its characters make every scene more emotional than the previous one. Personally, this is one of the few horror films that make me cry my eyes out every single time I watch it (I lost the count of how many times I’ve seen it, to be honest).

Yet, the mystery aspect of the movie almost takes over the rest: (SPOILERS now) The Sixth Sense revolves around whether Cole seeing ghosts is just a psychological problem or truth. When Malcolm discovers that the kid has indeed the ability to see dead people, he embarks on a journey to understand what they want from the Cole. Until… at the very end of the movie, it’s revealed that Willis is a ghost himself.

In an era where online spoilers weren’t as obtrusive as they are now, word of mouth spread quickly from a moviegoer to another and people threw themselves in cinemas to see what the fuss was all about.

The thing is: this twist, regarded as the biggest of cinema history by many, comes entirely unexpected, but, when you pay close attention to the movie (or go back and re-watch it many times), it becomes easier to spot subtle hints throughout it that make everything clearer. The Sixth Sense respects its audience and their intelligence: not once an exposition scene dumbs down the storytelling. The film requires your full attention to be entirely effective.

Sixth Sense 3However, the mystery is also combined with quite a few freaky sequences (towards the middle of the movie) that are subtly impactful because they play against the overall atmosphere of the movie. Yet, the whole look and feel of The Sixth Sense is dreadfully intense; an aura of uneasiness stays with the viewer from the first frame to the last.

Night’s camera-work plays a massive role in that. In fact, the way the camera closes in on the characters, the smooth movements of it give the viewer a subconscious sense of claustrophobia. Every shot is well-thought and gives a plus to the scene.

All in all, after watching this masterpiece multiple times, I still couldn’t find any single plot hole of flaw in the movie. The Sixth Sense is all I want from a horror movie (or from a film in general, for that matter) and I, obviously, strongly suggest to watch it.

 

Thank you all for coming with me through this Classics of Horror series, it’s been a tough but rewarding ride! See you at the next series (or, most likely, at the next review).

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