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6th Sense   Starring: Bruce Willis

  Genre: Thriller / Drama / Horror

  Running Time: 106 Minutes

  Rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material and violent images.

  Video Release: 28 March 2000

  Tagline: "Not every gift is a blessing."

600+ million dollars in worldwide receipts. Six Oscar nominations. And one kid who sees dead people? Hey... that’s just the half of it!

The Sixth Sense relies on the premise that a troubled boy, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), has this "sixth sense" in which he not only sees dead people, but hears them, feels them and in particular, fears them. Practically every commercial for this film features an image of young Cole whispering the line, "I see dead people" -- so this spoiler is very much old news. It’s unfortunate such an important element of the plot was revealed, for it ruins much of the uneasiness in the first half of the film. Thankfully, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan had another ace up his sleeve; which I won’t reveal.

Bruce Willis stars as child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe who is celebrating an eventful evening with his wife Anna (Olivia Williams) when an intruder, a former child-patient of Crowe's, breaks into their home and commits suicide. His patient's death wrecks havoc on his marriage and career and when he meets young Cole, he sees a chance for redemption. He believes if he can cure this boy, he'll be able to cure his marriage and career as well. Cole, who lives with his struggling single mother Lynn (Toni Collette), repels Crowe's advances in fear that his freakish gift will be discovered. Eventually Crowe gains Cole's trust, learns of his secret, and convinces him these ghosts are not to be feared but, instead, listened to. Cole then begins his task of acting as a liaison between the dead and the living.

What sounds like your typical "straight-to-video" story is actually an emotional look into the possibility of the other side. Events and characterizations move cautiously forward at a snail’s clip, allowing the suspense to swell into a disturbing climax. While the pacing languished in some parts, the overall feel of the film reflects that of the "ghosts" depicted. The phantasms are not the results of high tech special effects or jarring edits but more of a subtle force that is felt -- but not seen. Shyamalan entices our other senses as well with an attention to detail that is extremely Hitchcockian in nature. Take note of the repetitive "visual" of the color red -- depicting anything that has been tainted by the other side. Another sense the film utilizes is "sound" in which a chilling array of voices and breaths lie just over the dialogue.

The acting? One word -- superb. Willis provides a solid performance as a man who teeters on the edge of losing it all. It’s not so much what he says, but the look of defeat in his eyes. The young actor portraying Cole presents himself as a genuinely ill lad who has experienced years of sanity gripping terror. When he describes his frightening visions, his words are haunting; the verge of weeping. Cole's mother delivers an exceptional display of a parental figure who longs to help her child but cannot. Her body seeps with a disquieting agony as Cole remains just out of her reach. Finally, there is Crowe’s wife. Her performance is nothing spectacular until you watch the film a second time. Once you have witnessed the entire movie, watch it again with this new, fresh perspective. She has the difficult task of acting in "two" films and it is due to her interaction, that the film does not falter after the initial viewing.

Where The Sixth Sense flounders was its missed opportunities. (1) Cole helps a recently deceased girl, Kyra, in solving her death. It is a very unsettling scene when the truth is revealed but the whole sequence seems out in left field. Perhaps if the two families were related and Lynn was the sister to Kyra’s mother, we would then have a striking contrast between "motherly love." (2) The twice mentioned school fire and the burnt ghost Cole encounters? If Cole’s teacher, "Stuttering Stanley" (who, like Cole, suffered from abuse by his peers because of his peculiarities) had been exposed as the arsonist, this sub-plot might have come full circle. (3) Cole’s father is mentioned early on as “leaving” the family but this element never goes anywhere. The final scene between mother and son (quite emotional in its own right) would have been a notch more eventful if the deceased party was not Cole’s grandmother but – his father.

The Sixth Sense is a taut, psychological horror thriller. It frightens us, not by grizzly shock-values, but by illustrating the human anguish of loss. Check out the DVD for some of the deleted scenes and the extended ending. Only giving it a "3" because of the many loose threads -- but what an ending!

© Terrence J. Brady

The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).