Horror Movies

THE SIXTH SENSE. Still powerful and gripping cult horror movie

It must have been special birthdays. On August 6, 1999, M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Sixth Sense was released in American cinemas.

Jakub Piwoński

1 November 2023

THE SIXTH SENSE Still powerful and gripping cult horror movie

This event coincided with the director’s twenty-ninth birthday. Fate had a unique gift for him – his film achieved spectacular success.

If I had to pick one title from Shyamalan’s filmography that best reflects the director’s characteristics, I would undoubtedly choose The Sixth Sense. Although it wasn’t his first film, it can be considered the one that opened the doors to Hollywood for Night. This resulted from the film’s tremendous box office success, as it earned a staggering $673 million worldwide with a modest budget of forty million dollars. However, the film also pleased critics and garnered attention from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, receiving six Oscar nominations. In this way, the film made history by joining the ranks of horror films (such as The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, and Black Swan) that managed to secure a Best Picture nomination. But for the director himself, it was the first and last time his work was nominated for the most prestigious film award.

The Sixth Sense Bruce Willis Haley Joel Osment Toni Collette

Shyamalan’s first two films, Praying With Anger and Wide Awake, are dramas with no connection to horror. Therefore, it can be observed that it was only with The Sixth Sense that the creator ventured into the territory he had always wanted to explore – and experience shows that it is in horror that Shyamalan feels most comfortable. When creating the plot for The Sixth Sense, the director and screenwriter took inspiration from one of the episodes of the horror series Are You Afraid of the Dark? – a popular television production aimed at a younger audience in the 1990s. It was specifically the episode titled The Tale of the Dream Girl. The main character of this episode discovers that he is being ignored by everyone around him, except for his sister and a mysterious girl.

The Sixth Sense Bruce Willis Haley Joel Osment

Doctor Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), the main character of The Sixth Sense, is experiencing a similar problem. He is slowly recovering from an attack on his life carried out by an unstable patient. He decides to take on the case of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), an eight-year-old boy who is being raised by his mother, Lynn (Toni Collette), after his parents’ separation. Despite his young age, the boy is remarkably mature intellectually, which is both his blessing and curse. During Crowe’s therapy sessions, he notices that the child possesses an extraordinary ability, a sort of sixth sense, allowing him to see what remains invisible to others. In one of the famous scenes, he even shares this with his therapist:

I see dead people.

The fundamental quality of The Sixth Sense lies in the fact that its storyline primarily serves as more than just a horror device. This time, the ghosts coming out of the closet are not solely meant to frighten the audience. They primarily serve as a metaphor. Young Cole’s struggle with his sixth sense abilities – seeing and conversing with the deceased – is nothing more than a textbook reference to the treatment of anxiety disorders. These disorders arose in the boy’s life due to the premature loss of his father. Cole cannot cope with his anxieties because his father did not have the chance to teach him how to harness his inner strength. The appearance of Dr. Crowe speeds up the healing process, which involves accepting fears as inseparable emotions and attempting to establish a connection with them. The titular sixth sense is, therefore, nothing but the ability to read one’s own anxieties and understand the messages they convey. This is my interpretation, but it is also supported by the fact that Shyamalan has often proven that the plots of his films are highly ambiguous, and it is reasonable to look for hidden depths within them.

The Sixth Sense Toni Collette

The quality of the acting in the film is also essential, and it stands out exceptionally. Bruce Willis convincingly breaks away from his tough guy image, delivering a very subtle and minimalist performance. Quentin Tarantino, with whom Willis worked in Pulp Fiction, was highly impressed by his friend’s performance in The Sixth Sense, considering it one of the best in the actor’s career.

However, the most applause-worthy performance comes from eleven-year-old Haley Joel Osment, who portrayed the young Cole. An interesting anecdote is related to his casting. Allegedly, Shyamalan decided to cast Osment for two primary reasons: first, he was the only one to show up at the audition wearing a tie, and second, he turned out to be the best-prepared for the role, which he made evident during a brief conversation about it. When Shyamalan asked Osment if he had read his part, the young actor responded that he had done so three times. The director was surprised and asked, “Wow, you read your part three times?” To which Osment replied, “No, I read the script three times.”

The Sixth Sense Haley Joel Osment

His dedication to the role is evident on the screen. Shyamalan is known for his ability to work effectively with young actors, as demonstrated by his filmography. Still, Haley Joel Osment is undoubtedly the best example of this collaboration. Many adult actors fail to bring out as many emotions or understand their roles as well as he did. His talent was recognized by the Academy, which honored him with an Oscar nomination. Therefore, Haley Joel Osment made history as one of the youngest actors ever to compete for the golden knight statuette. It is unfortunate, though, that this did not lead to a more prolific career for the actor, considering his immense talent.

The Sixth Sense Bruce Willis

The uniqueness of The Sixth Sense is also attributed to its clever twist ending. The surprise twist was particularly powerful because it was impossible to predict in any way. Some might cynically argue that such twists often work against a film, rendering it a one-time spectacle. However, in the case of The Sixth Sense, my second viewing was marked by a meticulous observation of essential nuances (such as the symbolic use of the color red) and an understanding of its metaphorical underpinnings. It was then that I realized what an unusual film I was dealing with. Toni Collette, who played the mother of the boy, was reportedly so moved by the emotional depth of the script that she only discovered it was a horror film after the shooting had concluded. There is something quite remarkable in this subtlety. Shyamalan’s film is a highly atypical horror film – it can grip the viewer, move them, and the moments of horror, instead of terrifying, provide answers to profound questions.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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