Jul 9, 2010

[Movies] The Sixth Sense (1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999)It wasn't until much later in life that I actually cared about how directed a film. To me, it was just all about the stories with the actors being incidental and the director being non-existent. Of course in time I learned the foolishness of this notion and after a healthy number of Oscar shows, I soon realized just how important the director is.

Then of course came the realization that there's a special subset of directors who try to exercise even greater creative control - the writer-directors! Not only do they get to execute their skills in terms of arranging the shots and telling the actors what to do, but since they also wrote the story, they have a much more cohesive vision of how the screenplay was meant to be translated onto the silver screen. This is not to say that all writer-directors are good or in anyway visionary - it's just a unique position to take that can give a truly creative mind a lot of leverage to work with.

And thus we come to today's famed writer-director, the enigmatic M.Night Shyamalan. This strange fellow broke out into the Hollywood scene as the next golden boy because of his unique perspective when it comes to making movies and his penchant for creative storytelling. With his latest film, the live-action adaptation of the Last Airbender, now out in theaters, it seems fitting to revisit his many works over the years as a way to commemorate how far he's come. Or perhaps how far he's fallen.

The Sixth Sense was M. Night's break-out film (although not his first) and the one that really put him on the map as far as Hollywood was concerned. This movie best captured his love for a slower burn variety of horror movies with a surprise twist at the end. It remains one of the most memorable of his films and probably the one that scared me the most.

The story begins with child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) as he comes home from dinner with his wife, Anna (Olivia Williams). They arrive home to find Vincent Grey (Donnie Wahlberg) in their home while holding a gun. Vincent accuses Crowe of failing to stop his hallucinations as a child and then proceeds to shoot Crowe in the stomach and then himself.

Some time later, Crowe is back at work trying to help with the troubled Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). Like Vincent Grey before him, he suffers from disturbing hallucinations and Crowe makes it his mission to resolve this case. At the same time however, his wife is growing increasingly distant as he becomes more and more obsessed with the case. Eventually Cole tells Crowe his secret - that he can see dead people walking unnoticed by most others. Thus the movie proceeds with Crowe's investigation into whether or not Cole can truly see ghosts. At the same time, we as an audience bear witness to all of Cole's visions of the dead in more and more gruesome and macabre scenes.

This was truly a well thought out and well-made movie. From start to finish everything was done precisely right in order to convey the story of the film only to pull the rug out from under us at the very last moment. Plus it was all done in an extremely subtle manner that was definitely well-executed that it boggles the mind to consider just how he came up with all this. The secret twist at the ending just makes the movie into something completely beyond what most of us would imagine was just jaw-dropping and thus movie-goer after movie-goer instinctively understood that in order for others to enjoy it as they did, they couldn't reveal the ending. It didn't take an impassioned plea from the studio to get people to do this - it was just the universal acceptance that this was how the movie worked. And of course people wanted all their friends to enjoy the movie was completely and honestly as possible.

Plus the acting was stunning of course. It was nice to see Bruce Willis in a dramatic role that seemed almost tailored for his particular acting style. He tends to be a bit hit or miss outside the safer genre of action-comedies, but this really worked. Plus Haley Joel Osment was the real find here given his disturbingly believable portrayal of a child visited regularly by the dead. Maybe it's just his deep blue eyes doing most of his acting for him, I don't know. At the end of the day, it worked and the two generated a very believable relationship on screen.

It's no wonder why this movie struck a chord across so many demographics and it shocked a large part of Hollywood out of complacency. Here was a young upstart director who was able to create a fantastic movie with a very modest budget. It became a hit beyond anything the studios could have predicted at the time and it cemented M. Night's position as a master storyteller of the modern age. The comparisons to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock were inevitable given the kind of impact he made on everyone.

The Sixth Sense is probably how most people will choose to remember M. Night and perhaps this is also the best example of what he is capable of. This movie gets 5 disturbing ghostly moments out of a possible 5.

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