Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: The Sixth Sense (1999)


The Sixth SenseThe Sixth Sense (1999)
Rated PG-13 (for intense thematic material and violent images)

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Bruce Willis
Haley Joel Osment
Toni Collette
Olivia Williams

Pitched by relative newcomer M. Night Shyamalan as a cross between The Exorcist and Ordinary People, The Sixth Sense was a surprise summer hit when it was released in 1999.  Audiences were surprised by its emotional resonance and the shocking twist ending that few saw coming.  It is one of the few horror films to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and it played a large role in the resurgence of supernatural horror films.

Shaken by a confrontation with a former patient, Dr. Malcom Crowe (Willis) tries to help a troubled boy who claims to see ghosts to the detriment of his already crumbling relationship with his wife, Anna (Williams).  Cole Sear (Osment) struggles with his supernatural ability and desperately tries to keep his mother (Collette) from worrying about him, while being terrified by the spirits of the dead and tormented by other children who don’t understand him.  Cole’s visions begin to escalate and it is up to Malcom to help him understand why he’s been given this terrible gift.

Cole and Malcom

Cole describes the feeling he gets when the ghosts are present.

This is a wonderfully crafted suspense film, with shades of 70s ghost flicks like The Sentinel and The Haunting of Julia.  Shyamalan is a master of misdirection; he makes us think we’ve seen something simply by suggesting it.  It is this movie making slight of hand that makes the third act twist in The Sixth Sense seem both shocking and believable.  While there are a few jump scares, he makes the most of minutiae, too – the evaporating handprints on the kitchen table, the small indicators of a drop in temperature that no one else seems to notice, and mysteriously out of place items – which creep into the audience’s psyche and follow them home.  I remember thinking of this movie every time I got a cold child months after I initially saw it.  Visual and audio cues play a big part in ramping up the tension.  Shyamalan purposely limited the use of the color red, reserving it for scenes with significant scares as a subconscious trigger for the audience.  James Newton Howard’s hauntingly beautiful score compliments the scenic exterior shots of Philadelphia in autumn perfectly, as well as accentuating the bone chilling moments when the ghosts appear.

Red Doorknob

An example of Shyamalan’s pointed use of the color red.

Willis is uncharacteristically understated as Dr. Crowe and he deftly balances Osment’s anguished portrayal of Cole.  Osment is really, really good in this role.  His performance has just the right amount of terror tinged with anger bubbling at the surface.  Collette is also very good, as usual.  She only has a handful of scenes, but she makes the most of all of them, particularly those she shares with her young costar.

The Sixth Sense has become a horror classic with serious staying power.  Even if you know the twist ending, the scares are still very effective and the film’s moody suspense still resonates.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of 5

The Sixth Sense relies heavily on suspense peppered with jump scares.  Although its not gory per se, there are a few mildly bloody moments.  The fall setting makes it a great Halloween film and I recommend it to horror and non-horror fans alike.

About Tab

Tab is a 30 year old geek - married with three adorable kitties [Sullivan, Darby, and Zed]. Her life revolves around books, movies, Dr Pepper, robots, zombies, and occasionally, zombie robots. She is the creator of The Geektastics and author of the blog Geektastic.
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