I remember being significantly more terrified the first time I watched The Sixth Sense. It was 1999, I was 10 years old, and that whole vomiting scene with Mischa Barton made me deathly afraid of any sort of soup for the next 2-3 years.
Today was the first time I’ve watched it since then and I knew full-well everything that was going to happen. Hailey Joel Osment would say he sees dead people, he’d get on the wrong side of his teacher Stuttering Stanley, Bruce Willis’ wife would grab the check at their anniversary dinner and Bruce Willis would be revealed to be dead the whole time (Gasp!)
Still, none of it is a bore, none of it cheap parlor tricks, and it truly is testament to the fact that M. Night Shyamalan can be a great director (can, but not always will.) Very little scary stuff happens in the film, we only see a handful of dead people or things that make us gasp. but it generates a distinct moody atmosphere, never at ease, wary of whatever terror may loom around the corner. M. Night isn’t a master of terror or suspense so much as he is a master of mood, a studious chemist who knows full well what he wants his audience to be feeling and concocts the perfect potion that will keep us entranced.
Buuuuuut, The Sixth Sense isn’t perfect. Hailey Joel Osment’s mom is believable as a working class mother, but when it comes to the nitty gritty dramatic moments with Osment, she underwhelms. Bruce Willis too hits low, lacking the energy and pizazz that defined him in the 80s. Sure, he’s playing a child psychologist and has to give a subdued performance. But anytime he’s on screen, he never captivates, leaving all the heavy-lifting up to his other players.
But Hailey Joel Osment. Wow, its like a radioactive drama spider bit him on the knee when he was five and now he has acting superpowers that trump all those around him. He’s ethereal, almost inhuman in his ability to make us feel so human. How he didn’t win the Oscar is beyond me, but he’s on Silicon Valley now so I guess he’s doing all right.
If there’s one thing The Sixth Sense is known for, it’s THAT twist, arguably one of the greatest in movie history. We’re left with our jaws on the floor, angry at ourselves for not figuring it out earlier. But that’s the allure of M. Night, an astute filmmaker that relied too heavily on the twist throughout his career and became something of a joke. He’s redeemed himself with 2016’s Split, and thank goodness for that, because we want to see more greatness from him like we did in The Sixth Sense.