The Sixth Sense (1999)

Ok, reader. I want you to take yourself back to the turn of the millennium, and try to think of something that permeated the zeitgeist more completely than the line “I see dead people”. What’s that? You weren’t alive yet? Fuck. I’m old. Well rest assured, it was everywhere. Just like cans of Pepsi with Jar Jar Binks. The Sixth Sense is M. Night Shyamalan’s most well known movie by far, and it sent the world into a tizzy over a certain someone being… yeah there are spoilers here… dead the whole time. Continue on to hear (read) just how warranted that tizzy was, and what we think of the the movie that scared our pre-pubescent selves shitless.  

Reviewed by: Jake

 
 

Plot Synopsis

So here’s the thing… I could sit here and try to explain what happens in this movie in a logical progression, leading up to the grand reveal. But let’s not kid ourselves. You know what happens in this movie because you are a living human being with the internet. I’ll keep it brief. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who is apparently very good at his job BUT not good enough to prevent Donnie Wahlberg from breaking into his house in his undies and shooting him.

 
Mom forgot the pizza rolls.

Mom forgot the pizza rolls.

 

Next thing we know ol’ Brucie is tailing Haley Joel Osment, another kid in need of help (because that ended so well for him last time). The two develop a relationship, Bruce curses a non-zero number of times, and eventually Cole (Osment) tells him his secret; he sees ghosts.

This is the sort of spirit kids are magnetized to

This is the sort of spirit kids are magnetized to

The two spend enough time together to become comfortable, and their rapport ultimately helps Osment face his fears and realize he can exist somewhat harmoniously with the souls of the departed. In the process, he is able to patch things up with his mom, relieving a relation strained by his strangeness. That leads him to help the good doctor in return. And by help, I mean give him advice that leads to the realization that he is dead and has been for the duration of the movie. BAM. Twisted. Shyamalan went there. People had their gourds fucking blown. Roll credits.


What the Movie Does Right

Well this one’s a real brain buster… The twist is the answer. Honestly though, everyone knows about that and we don’t need to belabor the point. I’m going to focus on three other, either semi-related or wholly unrelated things this movie does an outstanding job of:

  • Hiding said twist - the key to having a twist is not spoiling the fucking thing in the process. M. Night did an absurdly good job of guarding against this in the movie. Pretty much every angle was covered. Bruce Willis taught himself to be a righty so no one would notice he was missing a wedding ring throughout. It’s one example of a great attention to detail and care that went into realizing the vision Shyamalan had for the grand reveal. And it worked. If someone tells you they saw it coming the first time around without any sort of external aid, kick them squarely in whatever parts they may have.

  • Having Haley Joel Osment - he is scary good in this movie. There is a natural inquisitiveness and fragility he is able to display that really sell the character. Maybe it’s the fact that he read the entire goddamn script of the movie three times before auditioning. Impressive shit.

 
Ladykiller in the making.

Ladykiller in the making.

 
  • Subtlety - For a movie about a kid that sees dead people, this could have easily just started sprayin’ and prayin’ that something would be worth a scare. But there is a pretty great sense of scope with the whole film. It’s emotionally charged and tells a story that is impactful even without the twist we all know and love. There is great attention to detail (red is on screen whenever a ghost is present), but it all serves the plot rather than the horror elements of the film. You don’t even see a ghost until well over an hour into the movie. The restraint really pays off.


What the Movie Does Wrong

This actually is a brain buster. Not like that last one that was totally fake. The Sixth Sense is a great film. If I had to single out a couple things to nitpick, the most egregious would definitely be some scenes of heavy exposition that temporarily hurt my immersion a bit. We don’t need 5 minutes of reading Willis’ accomplishments as a child psychologist to understand that he is a boss shrink. Find a better way to do this. The other issue I have is that the horror elements of this film are not what my younger self remembers. Though its subtlety is generally a boon for the movie, I can’t help but feel that some stronger (perhaps more R rated) effects would give this thing the punch and staying power it would need to be in the running for my all time favorites. As it stands, I’m left remembering being scared shitless of the scene with the hanging people, but now it just sort of looks like the folks are mildly inconvenienced… Not dead, tortured souls.

 
Mondays got me like.

Mondays got me like.

 

Ratings (1-10)

Story: 8.5 - This movie’s story is very, very good. It basically invented the twist as we think about it in a modern sense. It’s why the concept of the twist is so inextricably linked to M. Night, and honestly is probably the reason he eventually reached such lows (it’s hard to chase a ghost). One of our reviewers shed a non-zero amount of tears when viewing this for roughly the eleventh time. So why am I not giving it a ten, you’re asking? I thought it could have been tightened up quite a bit. There are several scenes with highly questionable levels of exposition. Other than that, it’s masterclass.

World-Building / Immersion: 9 - I potted my issues with the exposition in story, and I’ll house my complaints with how those manifest here. There are a couple scenes which take me out a bit, but overall, this movie is atmospheric as all hell and will totally not feel like a 2 hour foray.

Scare-Factor: 5 - The Sixth Sense wrecked 10 year old Jake’s shit. Hard. That’s no longer the case. It’s actually a little disappointing to revisit this one after several years and have a lot of the memorable scenes not pack the punch you remember. While the movie does an outstanding job of building tension and dread, it is very PG-13 in its treatment of its horror elements. That’s not an indictment per se, but it removes a good deal of the force from the proceedings when viewing today.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 4 - There really isn’t a lot going on in this one. My above comment about PG-13 horror applies here as well. There is very little gore in the movie, and even the scenes that involved relatively easy effects (Mischa Barton’s oatmeal puke) just feel like they could have been treated with more care.

Overall: 8 - One of the other idiot reviewers on this site would probably quip about how “A Jake 8 is actually a regular person 9.3”. Here’s the thing about that, though. It’s not. It’s an 8. And an 8 is a great score, befitting of a classic like this. If you haven’t seen it somehow and got this far, sorry. It’s now ruined.

Editor's Note: A Jake 8 is mathematically equivalent to an actual 9.23.