R059 The Sixth Sense

(1999, Horror/Drama, color)


Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

This is great! I hardly feel dead at all!

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A child psychologist tries to help a little boy who sees ghosts.


Not to be confused with Leonard Part VI.Renowned child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) comes home from an award banquet one night to find a nearly nude former patient having a nervous breakdown in his bathroom. Malcolm tells his wife to hide while he tries to help the now-grown lunatic. A poor decision, as it turns out. The underpanted interloper pulls a gun and shoots Malcolm in the gut before turning it on himself.

A year later, Malcolm has apparently recovered, but his relationship with his wife is now strained. She wanders depressively around the house mostly ignoring him. Disturbed by this, but nevertheless driven by a need to work, Malcolm visits a former patient with symptoms similar to the man who shot him. Cole (Haley Joel Osment) is an introverted child with disturbing habits, like drawing dismemberments and scrawling violent profanity in his notebook.

Cole tries to avoid Malcolm at first, but their sessions get a little friendlier as the film progresses. A turning point comes after a couple of Cole’s “friends” lock him in a crawlspace, and he flips out. In the hospital, he confesses to Malcom, "I see dead people,” and said dead people won’t leave him alone. Quoth he, “They only see what they want to see. They don’t even know that they’re dead.” Doggedly ignoring the obvious, Malcolm makes soothing noises while making plans to hospitalize his young patient.

The film starts to share Cole’s visions with us, such as the suicide woman in his kitchen, the gunshot-to-the-head boy in his bedroom, and various hanging victims in the school stairwell. Malcolm can’t see them, but nevertheless decides against hospitalizing Cole. That’s what he did with underpants man, and it didn’t work out. He goes back to his records of underpants man and listens to a recording he made of one of their sessions. His past self had to step out for a moment, and the room got really cold, and a man started whispering in Spanish to the boy while he was gone. Malcolm realizes that Cole really can see ghosts. So could underpants man, and it drove him crazy.

Thankfully, he sees live people too.Malcolm finds Cole and tells him that the ghosts aren’t really scary. They only want his help. All he has to do is listen to them. Cole takes his advice that night when a sickly girl ghost pops into his bedroom to vomit ethereal porridge all over his room. Cole runs away, then steels himself to go back and ask her what she wants.

Next day he and Malcolm take a bus to another part of town so that he can attend the ghost girl’s funeral. He wanders up to her room. The ghost girl appears and gives him a box. Cole takes the box to the girl’s father. The father finds a videotape inside. It’s a recording the girl made of one of her puppet shows while she was alive. The show gets interrupted when the mom shows up with lunch. Unaware of the camera, mom positions herself between the girl and her lunch so she can spike the porridge with cleaning chemicals. The father confronts his wife with it, determined to protect his younger daughter from similar abuse.

Cole begins to take his job of ghost assistance specialist seriously, and is soon doing well at school and with his relationship with his mom. Malcolm congratulates him and prepares to terminate their sessions. Cole tells Malcolm to try and talk to his wife about his concerns while she’s asleep. Malcom smiles indulgently, but decides to try anyway.

His wife is asleep when he gets home, so he starts talking. She responds, saying that she misses him, and asks why he had to leave. She shifts in her sleep, dropping his wedding ring on the floor. Malcolm lifts his hands to see that he is no longer wearing it. He realizes that he didn’t survive the shooting after all, and that no one but Cole has been able to see him all along. He says goodbye to his wife, and moves on into the afterlife.


Mommy, what's Munchausen-by-proxy, and why does it make the restless dead vomit spectral porridge at me?Okay, I’m thinking that M. Night Shyamalan must have an evil twin, and that said evil twin has done away with his brother, planting him in a shallow grave somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. I’m also thinking that Dark M. Night has taken over his brother’s life and even now wields Light M. Night’s hard-won film industry influence to everyone’s detriment. It’s pretty obvious this happened in or around 2003, between Signs and The Village. How else do you explain the abrupt drop in tone and quality for all works after that year?

(I also believe this happened to George Lucas, but fixing the exact year is a bit more difficult. It could have happened at any point between 1983 and 1999.)

Is it possible that the man who made Lady in the Water also made this? That such a jumbled, tedious and arbitrary piece of celluloid shares parentage with a suspenseful, deliberately paced and often moving thriller like The Sixth Sense? Yes, it’s slow, but it’s never boring. Every scene leads to something, which then leads to something else and so one, continuously propelling the movie forward. It doesn’t shy away from grossness or gore, but it doesn’t rely on them for shock value either. The shocks come from the way they invade Cole’s life, not from the wounds that caused their death. I found the twist ending satisfying even though I already knew about it going in. It made sense in the context of the story without inventing new details, and it brought closure to the story in a way that a sunny reconciliation could not. In fact, if you have the patience to pay attention and let movie come to you, I heartily recommend any of M. Night’s films between 1999 and 2002. After that, well, I think it would be best for everyone if we all just pretend that he’s dead, and that subsequent films are the work of an impostor.

As I prepared to watch this film with the Rifftrax, I worried that the commentary would shatter the suspense, making the movie merely tedious. Happily, this is not the case. The Sixth Sense’s slow, quiet qualities work actually in the Rifftrax crew’s favor, giving them plenty spaces to fill with jokes. As our movie opens with Shyamalan’s trademark raspy whispers, Mike wants to know, “Do they have a cake in the oven?” Later, during a discussion about the director’s name, Mike demands that his co-riffers address him as “M. Late Afternoon Nelson.” When Malcolm scrawls a bit of Cole’s translated Latin prayer on a notepad, Bill strains to read it to us. “Out of the depths, I cry unto you oh Lars?” When Cole delivers the movie’s most famous line in the midst of explaining how dead people often don’t even know they’re dead, the camera zooms dramatically in on Malcolm’s face while Kevin whispers, “Must... not... put... two... and... two... together...” Even while working in concert, The Sixth Sense movie/Rifftrax combo requires a modicum of patience. If you’ve got enough to spare, it’s a thrilling and funny experience.