1999 has seen the strong return of supernatural films, and millennium fever means there are even more in the pipeline. The Sixth Sense is the latest supernatural drama, and it had good promise. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the film can’t stay at an effective level between a strong beginning and ending. Much like the house in Poltergeist, the film simply collapses in upon itself.
Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is an award-winning child psychologist with a stellar career, and a loving wife (Olivia Williams). But all of that changes one night when he is shot by a truly disturbed former patient.
Months later, Malcolm is still trying to piece his life together. He’s barely there for his lonely wife, and his career has completely fallen apart. He sees his chance for redemption in the a young, troubled boy, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). Cole somehow reminds him of the former patient who shot him…and Malcolm senses that he has been given a second chance.
Cole is haunted by terrifying images and ideas. His mother, Lynn (Toni Collette), can’t understand what is wrong with her beloved little boy. Will Malcolm be able to break through Cole’s defenses and soothe the boy’s horrific imagination, or will Cole come to a tragic end like Malcolm’s former patient.
The Sixth Sense does start off very well. The introductory scenes of Malcolm attempting to console his violently deranged former patient set an appropriately ominous tone. They are matched by our introduction to Cole and the creepy images which haunt his mind.
Somehow, though, halfway through the film, the creepy atmosphere diminishes markedly. Perhaps it is the case that the same shocks, having been used over and over again, have become commonplace (and even unintentionally humorous at times). As you can imagine, this lessens the film’s impact tremendously. And it’s a shame…the Sixth Sense is able to wrap things up with one doozy of an ending.
Bruce Willis plays his wounded therapist with a subtlety that’s absent from many of his action films. However, his character here is too subtle, lacking of much substance. He spends a large portion of the film simply gazing sagely at the young, tormented Cole. You begin to long for a John McClane to emerge and simply stir things up a little bit.
Haley Joel Osment has irritated me every previous moment I have encountered him onscreen (whether that be in the delightful Forrest Gump, or the horrid Bogus). Here, he delivers his best performance, and actually remains watchable throughout. The biggest fault I have with him in the Sixth Sense is that he delivers every single one of his lines in a portentous whisper. It’s a fault that is easily overlooked.
The Sixth Sense is an ending in search of a film. If the second two thirds lived up to the promise of the first, this would have been an amazingly powerful cinematic work. But, as it stands, The Sixth Sense can’t quite live up to itself.