Yes, yes, the boy sees dead people. Get it out of your system. What a relief. The Sixth Sense is enjoyable with or without knowing the big twist, and thanks to a somewhat startling dominance of internet culture, anyone who has clicked on anything on the world wide web is bound to know the twist of this M Night Shyamalan piece. That doesn’t matter. Stories can transcend their twists through good writing and strong performance. The Sixth Sense does exactly that. A formidable debut from Shyamalan gifts audiences with a pop-culture thrill ride that tells the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) a boy who can, you guessed it, see dead people.
It’s an immortal line, is it not? Through both its simplicity and innocence, the “I see dead people,” dialogue and the reaction Bruce Willis’ Malcolm Crowe has to it are sensational. Beyond that, though, is an understanding of what threatens and scares audiences. Real situations, with a layer of the paranormal added into them. A break-in will instil the core fear Shyamalan wishes us to feel, and that feeling is elevated with the future elements of paranormal mystery. Sear is the host of such metaphysical problems, seeing those around him, living and dead. Smart dialogue prevents us from learning of Crowe’s demise fully, but Shyamalan skirts close to the edge at times. He and his wife, Anna (Olivia Williams) do not interact all that much. It is played off as relationship troubles, the distant and cold wife, but for what reason is eclipsed entirely.
Certainly smart, though, and credit to Shyamalan for this unique way of describing the grieving process. Sear and Crowe’s interactions with one another often leave lingering lines of doubt or hope, and these moments transpire rather well. They are fixated on the relationship between living and dead. Where The Sixth Sense loses its way, though, is in the relationship between Malcolm and Anna. It is not bad. Actually, it is quite smart, but Shyamalan does not know how much of this good thing is too much. Meetings at restaurants are met with uncomfortable, awkward silences. Playing this off as marital troubles once or twice is manageable, but it soon becomes far more than that, because it is shown far too often. It is integral to the story but must be used lightly and briefly.
Transcending the twist is one thing, but leaving audiences with a desirable, engaging story regardless of spoilt goods is a tremendous piece of forward-thinking, intelligent work. The Sixth Sense works whether or not you know the twist, and that is delightfully rare and necessary in the world of instant spoilers online. Contemporary eyes may be kinder to The Sixth Sense. As Osment looks on, he still sees that of the dead. A dead career, that is, as he stares into the soul of Willis, seeing the pain set out for him. Sear may see dead people, but I saw Hard Kill, so I’d say we’re even.