Scary Movies: Sixth Sense

Cole suffers from a real vision problem

Last time, we did I Bury the Living, which started off great but totally flubbed its ending. Here, with the Sixth Sense, the 1999 film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, we have a movie that stuck the landing as well as any horror movie ever has. I last saw this in the theater when it came out, and certain scenes have stayed with me ever since.

Malcolm Crowe is a child psychiatrist who has just won an award from the mayor of Philadelphia for his work with children. He and his wife come home from the celebration, only to find that one of his former patients has broken in their house, waiting with a gun. It seems Dr. Crowe didn’t do as good a job helping him as one might wish. The patient shoots Dr. Crowe in the abdomen before killing himself.

The following year, Dr. Crowe, apparently recovered from his wound, shows up outside the home of a new patient, a troubled nine-year old named Cole. Cole’s parents are divorced, he’s a small, sensitive boy who’s bullied mercilessly at school, and worst of all, he seems to see hallucinations. Cole does not want to discuss any of this with Dr. Crowe, but with gentleness and persistence, Dr. Crowe eventually gets Cole to open up to him.

Cole’s hallucinations take the form of him seeing and hearing dead people. After a time–and especially because Cole sometimes seems to have access to information or knowledge it’s unlikely a kid his age would have–Dr. Crowe comes to believe Cole is actually telling the truth. But if that’s the case, what is it about Cole that makes the ghosts appear to him?

I won’t go any further here, because the ending is better seen without having any clues about it ahead of time. I’d just like to say, one thing that struck me on viewing the movie this time around was how kind it is. Quite unusual for a horror movie! But Dr. Crowe genuinely wants to do what’s best for Cole, and Cole becomes quite dedicated to the doctor as well. There are also so many kind scenes with other characters–with Cole’s mom, who cares for him and worries deeply over his problems, even a teacher who Cole wrongs in an early scene later goes out of his way to do something nice for Cole. This is the highly unusual horror movie that combines true chills with a deeply compassionate core.

Sixth Sense (1999)
Story/Plot/Characters— Really superb script and acting, with Haley Joel Osment a remarkable child actor. A great concept carried out to a logical but unexpected ending. Half a point off for totally ripping off a scene from Poltergeist, when Cole’s mom enters the kitchen she just left and screams upon finding all the drawers and cabinet doors open. (3.5 points)
Special Effects— This one didn’t require a lot of special effects, but those it uses are done quite well. (1.5 points)
Scariness— Some scary scenes but nothing that will keep you up at night. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— I had forgotten how much Shyamalan uses on-location shots of actual Philadelphia architecture and cemeteries to build a gorgeous but creepy atmosphere. This movie is stuffed full of stone gargoyles, headstones, claustrophobic 19th century rowhouses, etc. (2 points)
Total=8 points (Best Horror Movies Ever)

I knew this movie would score well under my rubric, but I didn’t realize how well. It’s hard to see where I could take any points off, though. Squeaks in with eight points as the latest entry to score in my Best Horror Movies Ever category.

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