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(1999) (Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment) (PG-13)

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Horror/Suspense: A child psychiatrist hopes to help a troubled eight-year-old boy who's haunted by visions of, and encounters with, dead people.
Dr. Malcolm Crowe (BRUCE WILLIS) is a respected Philadelphia-based child psychiatrist who's celebrating a recent award with his loving wife, Anna (OLIVIA WILLIAMS). Their happiness turns to terror, however, as a former and now grown up patient of his, Vincent Gray (DONNIE WAHLBERG), breaks into their house claiming Malcolm failed him and asking "Do you know why you're afraid when you're alone?" Before the doctor can figure out what that means, Gray shoots him and then kills himself.

Later that fall, Malcolm has apparently recovered from the physical wounds, but both his belief in his work and his relationship with his wife have soured. Nonetheless, and despite his wife's aloofness, the doctor has taken on a new case regarding a troubled eight-year-old boy, Cole Sear (HALEY JOEL OSMENT).

It seems that Cole has no friends, spends most of his time in the local church or in a tent in his room filled with protective religious figures, and otherwise behaves in what most would consider a psychotic fashion. It's nearly driven his single mother, Lynn (TONI COLLETTE), mad herself, and so Malcolm steps in to see what he can do to help.

Naturally, Cole is reluctant to talk to this stranger, but when the doctor exposes his own faults detailing his seemingly failing marriage -- the boy begins to open up and the two enter into a symbiotic relationship. While Malcolm worries that his wife may be having an affair with one of her assistants, Cole's troubles, however, are far worse.

That's because he's constantly visited by dead people, most of whom don't realize they've died. Terrified by such encounters that are occasionally bad enough to leave physical marks making people question whether his mother abuses him, Cole -- with the encouragement of Dr. Crowe -- tries to deal with such visits and figure out what the deceased want from him.

If they're fans of Willis or psychological and quite creepy horror films, they probably will.
For intense thematic material and violent images.
  • BRUCE WILLIS plays a low-keyed child psychiatrist whose dedication to a case seems to have put a strain on his marriage (he also briefly cusses).
  • HALEY JOEL OSMENT plays a troubled, near reclusive young boy who must deal with his encounters with dead people.
  • TONI COLLETTE plays his mother who's frustrated that he won't tell her what's bothering him or what's wrong.
  • OLIVIA WILLIAMS plays Malcolm's wife, a woman seemingly unhappy with the state of her marriage and who initially appears to be possibly having an affair.
  • DONNIE WAHLBERG plays a trouble former patient who shoots Malcolm and then commits suicide.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    Of all the critically lauded and "serious" horror films ever made, many feature children in key parts. Some may think that's because everyone can relate to a kid or two they've known who's occasionally acted like they were possessed, such as during the "terrible twos."

    The more likely scenarios, however, are that it's because everyone remembers being frightened as a child (when monsters lurked under the beds and in partially closed closets), or that seeing a frightened child activates one's protective nature far quicker than witnessing an adult in the same situation. Whatever the explanation, many of the better horror flicks feature children in some sort of supernatural harm's way. For proof, one only needs to think of "The Exorcist," "The Omen," "Poltergeist" and "The Shining."

    Now you can add "The Sixth Sense" to that list. While clearly not of the "Scream" slasher/bogeyman variety, this is more of a serious, thought-provoking film that contains some of the spookiest, creepiest and eeriest moments I've seen on film in quite some time.

    As written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("Wide Awake"), this picture, that's consistently more unnerving than the recent "The Blair Witch Project" (although it's not as viscerally "in your face"), and everything the overblown, special effects-laden "The Haunting" remake wished to be but wasn't, should go down in the annals of horror films as one of the better entries.

    That said, I'm sure the film will have its share of detractors, and they may come out of the woodwork for two particular reasons. For one, they may complain that the film is too slow and methodical in its approach (and that it also bears a passing superficial resemblance to "Mercury Rising"). I'll readily admit that I hate boring movies, particularly if they're long -- this one isn't, it's just under two hours -- and am quick to point out such things.

    Yet this film, like last year's highly underrated "Meet Joe Black" and "Beloved," would be hurt by a faster tempo. Simply put, such films need their time to enact their supernatural spell over the audience and thus slowly give them the creeps.

    Sure, those weaned on MTV-style films -- where scenes and dialogue whip by at a breakneck pace while the cinematographer and editor go crazy zipping and cutting the various camera shots -- will complain about films like this one, but they should slow down and smell the roses for once. Sometimes, slower is better, and horror films certainly don't need "Scream" style shenanigans, attractive "hard bodies," knife-wielding bogeyman or telegraphed jump scenes to be effective.

    Beyond the film's premise that's spooky all by itself, there's just something about the way Shyamalan and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto ("Beloved," "The Silence of the Lambs") have lit and shot the film that's both unnerving and quite frightening.

    Contrary to the overblown and frenetic antics of "The Haunting" remake, this film's scariest scenes take place inside a modest and normal looking home where nothing seems out of place -- unless, of course, you consider the various dead people who suddenly and unpredictably show up.

    I'll admit that I've always been a sucker for this type of "after death" story, and have usually found such films -- whether they're intentionally frightening or just romantic "dramedies" such as "Ghost," the underrated "Always" and the fabulous "Heaven Can Wait" -- highly involving and often thought-provoking.

    While this one includes some nicely developed humorous moments -- that not only flow naturally from the proceedings but also offer some needed, albeit brief tension-cutting, comic relief -- it's the type of film that slowly wants to work its way under your skin and it more than succeeds at just that.

    The spooky stuff doesn't come at you right from the start, however, but instead gradually develops. The kid's reactions to the unseen events surrounding him are unnerving enough, but then there's the scene where his mother steps out of the kitchen for just a moment. When she returns, all of the drawers and cabinet doors are wide open. Although "Poltergeist" did a similarly spooky thing with kitchen chairs, the effect is still quite creepy. And that's just the beginning.

    The methodical scare tactics aside, the more likely criticism regarding the film, however, will be aimed at Bruce Willis and his performance as the low-keyed and reserved child psychiatrist. With the famous actor's often-used smirk and cockiness ingrained in the audience's cinematic psyche, it may be difficult for some to accept him in this sort of role. Of course he's already proved that he can act in films such as "In Country," but the average moviegoer's memory is short and probably best associates him with films such as "Armageddon."

    Others will obviously attack the way in which he plays the character, calling him wooden or complaining that he's sleepwalking through the role. In doing so, however, they'll be missing the overall scope of the picture that more than explains why he's playing the character the way he does. I for one didn't have such problems at any time during the film, and looking back at Willis' performance in hindsight only shows that the part was perfectly played.

    The real star of the film isn't Willis, however, but his young costar who delivers an incredibly strong and uncanny performance for a child his age. I'm talking about Haley Joel Osment, the kid who played Forrest, Jr. in "Forrest Gump" and most recently appeared in the little seen "Bogus."

    Delivering a performance that would make most adult performers envious, Osment is consistently believable as the troubled youngster. Not only do you completely accept that he's actually experiencing such horrific events, but he plays the character in such a pained and realistic fashion that you can't help but feel really sorry for him, thus ensuring that you'll grow far more concerned about his well-being as the story progresses.

    The main supporting performances -- really only consisting of Toni Collette ("Muriel's Wedding") as Cole's mom and Olivia Williams ("Rushmore") as Malcolm's seemingly aloof wife -- are similarly strong although the actresses don't get the necessary time to flesh out their characters properly.

    Even so, some of the film's better moments involve them. Somewhat unusual for a horror flick, this one features some truly touching moments, such as when Cole and his mom describe how their respective days were by using cheery events that wouldn't be worth mentioning if they were only true. Then there's the heartbreaking scene where Cole informs his mom about how her deceased mother really feels about her. Such moments tug on the heartstrings and give the film a nice added layer of emotional resonance.

    The part of the film that will elicit the most comments, however, is the ending. While we won't give it away, we'll just say that it's truly mind-blowing, will catch many viewers off guard, and only makes the film that much better, especially when considered in hindsight. It's truly one of the best endings I've seen for a film in a long time, and makes one wish to see the picture again just to reexamine how everything played out the first time around.

    That's a good thing since it's not unusual for such films to start out on a creepy note, but then either run out of gas, lose their edge, or become goofy by turning into nothing more than a big special effects extravaganza. This one bucks that trend by accelerating its pace as the story progresses. It continually gets creepier by the moment, and just when you think it's deflating toward the end, it hits you with a wild, but perfectly plausible ending.

    For those who thought "Beloved" and "Meet Joe Black" were too slow for their tastes, you may want to skip this film. If you "enjoy" haunting films that get progressively spookier and creepier as they go, however, then this one might be right up your darkened, nightmare prone alley. I was really spooked by this film, but also admired its performances and the way everything perfectly plays out. Thus, "The Sixth Sense" rates as an 8 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this PG-13 rated horror/suspense film. The movie is filled with an extreme amount of scary/supernatural/suspenseful scenes (and related music) that may just induce nightmares in kids and those with low tolerance levels for such material and probably will creep out just about everyone else. In addition, the sight of various "alive" dead people, some of whom have bloody wounds, will only add to that effect.

    Beyond the violence that occurs to them (most of it off camera), a man shoots another man in the gut before committing suicide, and a parent poisons a child. Profanity is mild due to 1 use of the "s" word, along with a few other words and colorful phrases.

    A bit of drinking occurs with two characters appearing to be a bit intoxicated, while a woman is seen taking a shower, but only through a frosted glass shower door that shows her figure, but no graphic details. A couple appears to be having marital problems, while the central boy's parents are divorced and another family grieves over the death of their daughter.

    Beyond all of that and a few related bad attitudes, the film's remaining categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Due to what's present, however, and the PG- 13 rating that may mislead some parents into bringing young children with them, we strongly suggest that you take a closer look at the listed content should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for anyone in your home.

  • Anna gets some wine from the basement and we then see that both she and Malcolm appear somewhat tipsy. She then tells him "I never told you, but you sound a little bit like Dr. Seuss when you're drunk."
  • People have wine in a restaurant.
  • A woman talking on a videotape seen on TV appears somewhat intoxicated.
  • We see a few scratches on Cole's arms.
  • We hear Cole peeing into a toilet.
  • Cole sees a woman with strange, unnatural marks on her face and cuts on her wrists.
  • Cole sees the image of three people (from the past) hanging from the ceiling in his school.
  • We see an older dead boy go into Cole's bedroom and the back of his head is all bloody (from an apparent gunshot wound).
  • We see vomit coming from a dead girl's mouth (and she also has sunken, black eye sockets).
  • We see two more dead people with somewhat bloody faces.
  • We see blood on the back of a person's shirt as well as a pool of blood coming from their body.
  • Malcolm seems to put his work ahead of his marriage (and appears to show up late for their anniversary dinner), while Anna seemingly becomes aloof and initially appears as if she's nearing having an affair.
  • Vincent blames his Malcolm for not helping him and thus shoots him and then commits suicide.
  • Cole steals one of the small religious figures from a church (but does so hoping that its powers may "protect" him -- and we see that's collected quite a few in the makeshift tent in his bedroom.
  • Another kid calls Cole a "freak."
  • In an almost trance-like state, Cole picks on his school teacher, dredging up memories when the adult was a stutterer as a child.
  • Some kids lock Cole in a small room and then don't do anything to get him out after Cole begins screaming in a terrified fashion.
  • We see a mother spiking her sick child's soup with poison (that ultimately kills them).
  • Anna goes down into the basement to get some wine, suddenly gets spooked and quickly leaves.
  • A person or their shadow briefly passes by the camera and into the bathroom. Malcolm then slowly walks over there and discovers a former patient, now grown up, who's broken into their home, acting rather unbalanced and more than a bit creepy (the scene is a minute or so long and quite unnerving). That man then shoots Malcolm and then commits suicide (off camera).
  • Lynn steps out of the kitchen for a moment and then returns to see all of the drawers and cabinets wide open.
  • At another child's party, Cole cautiously walks up a spiral staircase toward a small door at the top from behind which he hears voices. Some kids then grab Cole and lock him in the room where we then hear his terrified screaming. Lynn tries to come to his rescue, but can't get the door open.
  • As we see Cole peeing in the bathroom (from behind him) a figure crosses between him and the camera. As the temperature then quickly drops (we can see Cole's breath), Cole cautiously goes out into the hallway and then sees a woman standing in the kitchen. She then turns around (with odd marks all over her face) and then menacingly starts coming after him and he races back to his room where he hides in his makeshift tent.
  • Cole sees the image of three people (from the past) hanging from the ceiling in his school.
  • Cole tells Malcolm that the prickly things one feels on the back on their neck are actually caused by the dead people around you.
  • We see an older boy go into Cole's bedroom and the back of his head is all bloody (from an apparent gunshot wound).
  • As Cole tries to hide in his makeshift tent at night from another encounter, we see (from his point of view) the clothespins start popping off. We then see a girl with vomit coming from her mouth. (It's much scarier than it seems as written). Cole runs out, but after a moment or so, slowly walks back toward the tent-covered figure. He then pulls back the tent to reveal the dead (but seemingly alive) girl.
  • A hand suddenly reaches out and grabs Cole from under a bed where we then see a dead- looking, but "alive" girl.
  • Cole tells his mother that he sees a dead woman standing next to their car (and we then see her).
  • Handgun: Used by a former patient to shoot Malcolm and then commit suicide.
  • We see an older boy go into Cole's bedroom and the back of his head is all bloody (from an apparent gunshot wound) after he comments on seeing his guns.
  • Fake sword: Seen in a play concerning King Arthur and Excalibur.
  • Phrases: "Cheese d*ck," "Piss," "Freak," "Sucked big time," "Punk" and "Jeez."
  • Vincent blames his Malcolm for not helping him and thus shoots him and then commits suicide.
  • A person or their shadow briefly passes by the camera and into the bathroom.
  • As we see Cole peeing in the bathroom (from behind him) a figure crosses between him and the camera.
  • A hand suddenly reaches out and grabs Cole from under a bed.
  • An extreme amount of spooky/unnerving music occurs throughout the film.
  • None.
  • At least 1 "s" word, 1 slang term using male genitals ("Cheese d*ck"), 1 damn and 1 hell (both written), and 3 uses of "Oh my God" and 1 use each of "G-damn," "God" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • Somewhat drunk, Malcolm and Anna kiss and then go upstairs to their bedroom and prepare to undress (but we don't see anything and nothing else sexual happens).
  • We see a deranged adult man in his underwear.
  • We see Anna sleeping in bed, showing some cleavage (and does so in another scene).
  • We briefly see Lynn in her bra (some cleavage) as she grabs a shirt from the laundry.
  • We see Anna in the shower, but only through the frosted glass shower doors that show the shape of her body, but no visible details.
  • None.
  • We read that Cole's parents are divorced and he and Malcolm briefly talk about that in later scenes.
  • Cole says that he's worried that his mom is thinking something bad about him (she says she's not).
  • We see a grieving family reacting to their daughter's death (apparently after the funeral).
  • The whole notion of Cole seeing dead people who don't realize they're dead.
  • Cole initially believes that he's a "freak" (other kids may feel the same way about themselves).
  • Anna discovers a broken window in their house.
  • A former patient shoots Malcolm in the gut and then commits suicide (off camera).
  • We see some threatening, free-association written sentences on a page.
  • Cole sees the image of three people (from the past) hanging from the ceiling in his school.
  • We see an older boy go into Cole's bedroom and the back of his head is all bloody (from an apparent gunshot wound).
  • Anna and her assistant hear some glass break and then run down to find a broken window (and we then see Malcolm walking away).
  • We see a mother spiking her sick child's soup with poison (that ultimately kills them).
  • We see a dead person (as if alive) who was just killed in a car accident.

  • Reviewed July 28, 1999 / Posted August 6, 1999

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