'The Sixth Sense': THR's 1999 Review

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Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis in 1999's 'The Sixth Sense.'
It's nice to see old-fashioned storytelling and staging serving as the picture's most potent special effects.

On Aug. 6, 1999, Buena Vista unveiled M. Night Shyamalan's breakout hit The Sixth Sense in theaters. The film went on to be nominated for six Oscars at the 72nd Academy Awards, including best picture. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

Alternatively chilly and chilling, The Sixth Sense is a psychological thriller that relies on the psychological as its primary scare tactic rather than CGI overload. 

Summoning the spirit of The Omen and Truly Madly Deeply, the picture is probably too quietly purposeful and deliberately paced (read: slow) for the cheap-thrills, fright-night set. But writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has an effective secret weapon in convincingly haunted young lead Haley Joel Osment, not to mention a nifty twist ending that packs a spooky wallop. 

An ideal release for Hollywood Pictures, which has been repositioned as Disney's genre film division, the modestly budgeted effort, given the right kind of handling, could scare up sturdy theatrical business followed by healthy ancillary afterlife.

Bruce Willis, in low-key, quiet-guy mode, plays it close to the vest as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, respected child psychologist whose misdiagnosis of a former patient has had tragic repercussions. Searching for a little personal and professional redemption, Crowe is determined not to make the same mistakes twice when he takes on the case of Cole Sear (Osment), a troubled 8-year-old who has been harboring a dark secret — wherever he goes, he's tormented by the restless ghosts of dead people.

Afraid to tell his concerned but worn-down mother (Toni Collette) about his unwelcome visitors, Cole ultimately opens up to Crowe. Crowe isn't sure he's going to be able to "cure" Cole but is willing to try, at the expense of shutting out his wife (Olivia Williams), who has begun to turn elsewhere for attention.

While Willis, Collette and Williams are fine, the film is handily stolen by 11-year-old Osment, probably best known as young Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. His soulful, sad-eyed performance provides the film with an affecting emotional center that helps offset Shyamalan's weakness for occasionally burdening scenes in weighty significance. 

But his decision to delay bringing out the bogeyman until well into the story, allowing the unsettling mood to build fully, is a refreshing change from the usual slice 'n' dice assault on the senses. Although there's sticky, New Agy-y subtext to some of the plot resolutions, it's nice to see old-fashioned storytelling and staging serving as the picture's most potent special effects.

Also contributing to the unsettling vibe is Tak Fujimoto's (The Silence of the Lambs) cinematography, which playfully summons the spirit of Rosemary's Baby and Larry Fulton's just-slightly-off production design. — Michael Rechtshaffen, originally published on Aug. 2, 1999.