THE SIXTH SENSE
What one notices about The Sixth Sense is how remarkably quiet a film it is. You notice it sitting in a thousand seater multiplex. It is a tight, small film one that almost seems out of place in a multiplex and more appropriate to a small arthouse theatre screen. Instead of leaping out at you, it remains hushed and introverted. Dialogue takes place in whispers and lowered voices. The apartments it is mostly set in are the realistic and unremarkable dwellings of middle and low income earners, not the production designers dream of extravagant dwellings that none of the characters could believably expect to afford.
However, once The Sixth Senses quietude enfolds you, director M. Night Shyamalan produces some real jolts. The first one with Haley Joel Osment getting up in the night to pee and the loud thump on the soundtrack as someone passes in front of the camera makes the entire audience jump right out of their seats. Shyamalan keeps the audience on a seat edge throughout with a number of other genuinely spooky shocks the appearances of the vomiting girl inside the tent; the boy who says Come and let me show you where my father puts his gun before turning and revealing the back of his head blown off.
The Sixth Sense is made all the more effective by the fragile, frightened performance of Haley Joel Osment (he was nominated for an Academy Award in the part). This is a performance that lacks any of the sentimental cuteness that children are usually portrayed with in almost every Hollywood film; rather is one that shows the real terrors of childhood. It is really Osment who manages to carry the film, as opposed to the top-lined Bruce Willis (who is also extremely good). The film is made considerably by M. Night Shyamalans writing, which comes with enormous subtlety and strength. The scene where Osment reduces his mother to tears by telling her how her grandmother did see her dance is heart-wrenching.
What makes The Sixth Sense though is the genuine surprise ending. It is one that takes the entire audience completely by surprise. [SPOILER ALERT]. Its a variant on the twist ending in films like An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1962), Carnival of Souls (1962), Seizure (1974), The Survivor (1981), Sole Survivor (1983), Siesta (1987), Jacobs Ladder (1990), Final Approach (1991) and A Pure Formality (1994), something that one has termed the Deathdream fantasy. (Although one is certain that M. Night Shyamalan obtained a good deal of inspiration from the diabolical twin film The Other ). Of all these, Shyamalan manages to make the most audacious use of such a surprise yet. Shyamalans wilful misdirection in making one think that Bruce Willis is experiencing a communication gap with his wife and that she has been seeing someone else is masterfully conducted. It is only when one sits down and thinks about it that one realizes just how much of the film has been subtly worked like how Bruce Willis seems to but never actually does interact with anyone on screen except Haley Joel Osment to present a misleading ambiguity. It is one of the all-time great surprise twists in a film.
The Sixth Sense was an enormous sleeper hit and one of the most successful of its year. It launched M. Night Shyamalan as a major new talent. Next up for Shyamalan was the script for likeable childrens film Stuart Little (1999) about a mouse boy. His next directorial outings were the strange superhero film Unbreakable (2000), the crop circles/alien invasion film Signs (2002), the period monster film The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006) about a water nymph and predestination, The Happening (2008) about a mysterious catastrophe, the fantasy adventure The Last Airbender (2010), the planetary adventure After Earth (2013), the Found Footage horror comedy The Visit (2015) and the split personality film Split (2017). Many of these tried to replicate the things The Sixth Sense did and produce similar conceptual twists but with mixed results. Shyamalan also formed the production company The Night Chronicles to produce and form ideas for films for other directors with the companys first project being the modestly effective horror film The Night Chronicles 1: Devil (2010) about five people trapped in an elevator with The Devil.
Subsequently, the films twist ending was copied in films like The Others (2001), Soul Survivors (2001), The Brown Bunny (2003), Dead End (2003), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), I Pass for Human (2004), Hidden (2005), Stay (2005), Ring Around the Rosie (2006), The Escapist (2008), Passengers (2008), The Haunting of Winchester House (2009), Someones Knocking at the Door (2009), Wound (2010), A Fish (2012), Leones (2012), 7500 (2014) and The Abandoned/The Confines (2015), while its influence can be found elsewhere in films like The Devils Backbone (2001), The Ring (2002), Godsend (2004), Dont Look Up (2009), Charlie St. Cloud (2010) and The Awakening (2011). Indeed, for a good many years afterwards, the last minute left field twist ending became a cliche that numerous genre films attempted to copy. The Sixth Sense was spoofed in Scary Movie (2000).
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 1999 list. Nominee for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Haley Joel Osment) at this sites Best of 1999 Awards. No. 2 on the SF, Horror & Fantasy Box-Office Top 10 of 1999 list).