As the audience watches the movie open up to a woman turning on a lonely light bulb, the sombre and moody light it casts onto the cellar she is stood in immediately sets the unnerving atmosphere of the entire movie. Whilst she is able to quickly flee this gloom by hurrying back upstairs with the bottle of wine she came to get, the audience itself has no such stairway to escape to. Instead, we are forced to confront this horror thriller for what it is, growing unease included. It is therefore no surprise that The Sixth Sense would launch its director M. Night Shyamalan’s long association with Bruce Willis for a series of films characterised by the obscure and enigmatic tone which first moved people over 20 years ago, back in 1999.
The woman turns out to be Dr. Malcolm Crowe’s wife. He is a child psychologist who has just been rewarded by the state for his precious work and comes home for a night of celebrations. It becomes quickly apparent that not everyone seems to share the Philadelphia mayor’s gratitude as that same night one of his former patients, Vincent, breaks into their apartment. He shouts a series of reproaches at the doctor who he accuses of having let him down. Having discharged his conscience, he pulls out a gun and shoots the doctor and himself in quick succession. As his wife’s screams despair fade off, the movie jumps to a few months later where the traumatic shock of this encounter has driven a large wedge between the couple.
That same confrontation seems to have left a deep mark on Malcolm, not only as a wound, but also on his conscience. His troubled mind leads him to a young boy, Cole Sear, whose similarity with his shooter give him the opportunity of redemption and fuels his drive to help him. Cole’s strict secrecy is almost more troubling than Vincent’s outspoken hysteria. Drawers seem to open on their own, footsteps are heard in the middle of the night, pendants are misplaced, and no one can seem to find an explanation – except for Cole.
The movie’s gentle pace is laden with a series of shock twists which shape its unconventional path into The Sixth Sense’s most famous feature. One minute the profound dialogue surprises with its sensibility, and the next some graphic encounter jostles the audience back into the supernatural. This abrupt variation is mostly made possible by the talented young actor, Haley Joel Osment, who plays the boy at the centre of both the plot and these supernatural occurrences. Although he is the one with the sixth sense, his captivating performance, as the picture of both mystery and innocence, alongside Bruce Willis’ strong countenance adds an extra dimension to the quietest dialogues and loudest screams.
In a moment where the coarse sound of violins escalates, Cole’s confession to Malcolm seems just as raw: “I see dead people”. Initially shocked and sceptical, Malcolm finally pushes the young boy to try and answer the one question every avid horror movie watcher has asked themselves: why are these dead people troubling him? The answer perfectly summarises the unconventional power of this movie, and is much more profound than one might expect.