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The Test of Time: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, and Toni Collette

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Under the examination: The Sixth Sense.

Last time out I looked at The Terminator, which had launched the career of James Cameron who became the modern master of the sci-fi genre. He’s had perhaps one of the most interesting careers of any modern director. (His name is James Cameron – the bravest pioneer!) In stark contrast is the career of one M. Night Shyamalan, who like Cameron, bitch slapped Hollywood with a massive hit, a film that appeared impossible to top. Cameron managed to not only top himself, but somehow do it again and again (financially at least). For M. Night, well, not so much. He made two more, sorta repetitive movies until he made … The Happening, and became a punch line for redundancy.

I wonder if the door squeaks when it opens.

THE STORY: The Sixth Sense is a hard flick to describe because to do so properly would be to spoil the thing. With that said, the movie came out in 1999, so if you don’t know the “surprise” ending yet then you should save this article, rent the thing, and then resume this article when you’re up to speed. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Bruce Willis stars a kid shrink (Dr. Malcolm Crowe – a fancy movie name) who is very good at his job. One night, he and his wife are celebrating his success when a former patient breaks in and shoots him. Time passes and Willis needs to right his wrongs by finding some other messed up kid and helping him a wholllle lot better than the other. Haley Joel Osment plays said kid, who has one very unique gift – he can see lots of dead folks (Could you imagine his reality TV show? He’d be like John Edwards, but more creepy). The twist comes from the people he sees don’t know that they’re dead. That would suck. Anyway, they team up together, like Batman and Robin, and help solve the case of a mystery sick little girl. Then they help each other. Aww.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: The Sixth Sense starts off with a bang with a tense scene involving Willis, his wife, and one of the New Kids on the Block, Donnie Wahlberg (who is freaky). Wahlberg, one of Willis’ former patients, is pissed he didn’t get enough care and shots the doc and then himself in the head. It’s a powerful moment that really draws in the audience.

I haven’t seen this movie since it came out back in 1999, and to be honest, I seemed to remember the kid, Haley Joel, more than I did Willis for whatever reason. But this truly is Willis’ flick. He really shows some range here that he rarely has a chance to show off. For one of the few times in his career, he doesn’t play Bruce Willis, which I don’t mind of course, but it’s nice to see him play a character too. He’s one of the those everyman actors, and that really shows here.

I’m not usually a fan of kid actors. Frankly, unless they’re starring as a possessed evil spirit, I think they stink. Yeah, yeah, I know they’re just kids, but still, they always look like snotty kids acting (I’m looking at you, Jake Lloyd). Haley Joel doesn’t suffer from that mainly because he isn’t given much range to play with. Here, he basically imitates Willis in his “serious” roles, where he’s speaks in a monotone whisper.

Beyond the actors (Toni Colletti is damn good too), I also think M. Night did a hell of a job here. He keeps things so simple that they feel powerful. Something he should probably remember and go back to. Dude exploded onto the scene with this twisted ghost tale that had a, well, twist ending. Will M. Night have a twist in his career again sometime in the future? Or was he a one trick pony who petered out after only a handful of films? Regardless, no one can take away The Sixth Sense, which isn’t going to get knocked off the classic list anytime soon. Why? Because it’s old school, a different type of horror flick in a horror age defined by gore, splatter, and torture. The Sixth Sense plays more like a classical piece. Slow paced, character-centered, this is the kinda of movie that builds and builds until it finally pays out.

That rug looks a little too tight.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Well, The Sixth Sense has one major problem. Once you know the ending, that shock that you once felt can’t ever come back. It’s a tough thing, and a little unfair. It’s like saying the impact of The Usual Suspects is less after its known Kevin Spacey isn’t as dumb as he looks. The fun then becomes rewatching the thing to see how the clues are given to the viewer. Honestly though, that’s only fun for a little while because once we know McClane is dead, it kinda takes the fun out of it. With that said, the moment his wife drops his wedding ring on the floor and Willis notices he’s one dead stiff, it’s still a little goose bumpy.

Perhaps the movie borders on melodramatic at times (especially the end and that cheeseball fade to white), but you know what, it’s hard to find a lot of fault here. Just don’t expect any adrenaline-level fright because it doesn’t have any. The Sixth Sense has that quiet suspense thing going, but no ghosts even appear until around 50 minutes in. For modern audiences, that might be a bit too long. Hell, I knew the story and I kept waiting at least for something walking all ghostly in the background. Speaking of which, why the hell is this even rated PG-13. There’s nothing gory. Nothing overly scary (beyond Willis’ rug). Probably the nastiest thing in the movie is the vomit girl, which is pretty gross because vomit is really nasty. I’ll hold that stuff in until it literally evicts itself from my body.

M. Night reminds kids that helmets do nothing.

THE VERDICT: Essentially, this film became famous for one pop culture phrase: “I see dead people.” Now with that very catchphrase (which was everywhere back then), the world shouldn’t have really been shocked when we discover Willis is indeed a ghost, that he’s deader than Willis’ hair follicles. The kid did tell us that. As did the film’s poster. Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense is still a great movie. It’s not necessarily something that’ll make you poop your paints out of fear, but it’s some well-made cinema. And that's the kinda thing that stands the test of time.

GET THE SIXTH SENSE DVD HERE

GET THE SIXTH SENSE BLU RAY HERE

More posters need to come in black.

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