“I want to tell you my secret now … I see dead people.”
M. Night Shyamalan‘s supernatural thriller, The Sixth Sense, in which a troubled young boy named Cole (Haley Joel Osment) claims he can see dead people, shocked, surprised and captivated audiences in the Summer of 1999 when it opened #1 in the box office. No small feat against the rising success of the indie horror film The Blair Witch Project and the popular Julia Roberts film The Runaway Bride.
The Sixth Sense would spend the next 5 weeks in #1, eventually earning more than $600M worldwide. The film which depicts the certain … possibilities … regarding life after death, not only seemed to have a substantial universal appeal but it proved, once again, audiences really do enjoy being scared.
Packed with moments of extremely enjoyable thrills, twists and turns, The Sixth Sense is also an intimate portrait of familial life and the difficulties we face when we are afraid of letting people get close to us. The relationships in the film are key – from child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) and his wife, Anna (Olivia Williams) to the mother-son relationship between Cole (Osment) and his mother, Lynn (the ever-amazing Toni Collette).
The Sixth Sense is a film built on drama, on the need for connection.
For instance, the longer Cole stays in therapy with Malcolm, the more the audience trusts the child’s credibility, the more we are willing to open ourselves to getting to the bottom of what’s troubling him. Through Malcolm, we learn to trust Cole. In trusting Cole, we open ourselves to Cole’s own, terrible realities. You become invested, fully, in these entwining stories, in Malcolm and in Cole.
Without it, without the drama and the trust, the film is lost, and so too are the big scares and the power of the final, shocking reveal. And, since the more you care, the more you’ll feel the scares, The Sixth Sense has some doosies in store.
One thing I love about The Sixth Sense is the production work that went into the film to make it work as a thriller – how, little by little, they toss us a breadcrumb, slowly letting us in on their secret, without giving too much away at any one point in the film.
I also love the use of color, specifically the color red, to help convey certain key aspects of the storytelling – a method that is best enjoyed, and rewarded, through multiple viewings.
A few examples to watch for:
* The most obvious one is the red door handle to the wine cellar/basement, which Malcolm seems to have trouble with on a regular basis
* The colors on the volume dial for Malcolm’s tape recorder that gradually change from white at volume level 1 to bright red at volume level 10 (where Malcolm has inadvertently captured something known as electronic voice phenomenon).
* The sweater Cole wears to the birthday party in which he sustains physical injuries from an encounter.
There are so many more – once you know to look, you’ll see red everywhere.
Thanks to the attention to detail, the rules and clues laid out prior to production by the filmmakers which provide a “no cheat/no fast ones” backbone to the storytelling, and outstanding performances from Willis, Collette (who was recognized with a Best Supporting Actress nod by the Academy), and Osment (also acknowledged with a Best Supporting Actor nod), The Sixth Sense is a film that stands the test of time.
Wiki facts: The Sixth Sense
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