The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

After so much talk of The Blair Witch, it seems like an appropriate moment to introduce M Night Shyamalan's truly scary idea. Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) lives in Philadelphia with his mom (Toni Collette). He's eight years old and not easy. He doesn't make friends, he has daymares that are too disturbing to talk about. He has a secret. He won't tell his mom. He won't tell anyone. Finally he tells Dr Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychiatrist, who is the only grown-up he feels he can trust.

Crowe tries to label the boy's condition. Cole can read thoughts. That's another of his gifts. "How can you help me if you don't believe me?" he asks. Crowe can't answer. He has to think about the boy's secret. It is too terrible to conceive. It opens doors to places he dare not go, places the boy lives with every day, suffers in, alone.

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The film balances delicately between the normal and the paranormal. It cheats a little to broaden the scope, which is a shame. The pace is slow, not that that matters, because Osment is such a compelling actor, he forces you back from thoughts of incredulity with the power of his commitment. Cole in Osment's hands is menacingly intelligent. He knows so much more than he should do and what he knows terrifies him.

Willis is acting. After films like The Siege, you imagined he had lost the knack. He can pull off an Armageddon any time he wants and slip into a Die Hard like it's another heavy night with the lads. This is different. He is serious and what is more, he is thoughtful, gentle, sensitive. Action fans won't recognise him. He stays calm. He lets Crowe absorb Cole's secret in order to come to terms with it and, in coming to terms, understand his place in the scheme of things.

Shyamalan's concept is daring, indeed. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, it has been given the full Hollywood treatment. Ultimately, there are too many questions hanging in the ether. Poetic licence is one thing, cinematic licence far cheaper. Cole's secret will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The encore is riskier. To make sense of the senseless, all things must come together. They don't quite.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Psychologist tries to help a boy with a spooky secret.
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Director: M Night Shyamalan

Writer: M Night Shyamalan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Peter Anthony Tambakis, Jeffrey Zubernis, Bruce Norris, Glenn Fitzgerald, Greg Wood, Mischa Barton

Year: 1999

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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