Blog Directory CineVerse: Seeing dead people with 20/20 vision

Seeing dead people with 20/20 vision

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nineteen ninety-nine was a notably strong one for cinema, both at the box office and in terms of critical appraisal. Highlights of that year included "The Matrix," "American Beauty," "Being John Malkovitch," "Magnolia," "Toy Story 2," and "The Insider." It was also the year that "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" ruled the box-office. But coming in second place in ticket sales was a true underdog that captured the world's attention for a spell: M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense." Twenty years later, we analyzed what makes this film so exceptional, especially as a horror film and psychological thriller. Here's a roundup of our CineVerse discussion yesterday:

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It’s an intentionally quiet movie that uses silence and subtlety to ratchet up the suspense.
  • It’s an unconventionally intimate movie—the filmmakers keep the camera close to the actors.
  • “The Sixth Sense” combines the best elements of horror, drama, and spirituality—a film that works on all three levels.
  • It doesn’t resort to cheap or quick thrills, jump scares, or grandiose special effects tor CGI o scare you.
  • The roles of Cole and Malcolm are written as very intelligent—the performances avoid sentimental cuteness or silliness, too.
  • Unlike other psychological horror movies, we know that what Cole sees is real, which makes the film more satisfying, less frustrating, and much more terrifying.
  • The richly detailed, brooding, slowly revealing, psychological approach makes it a lot smarter and more effective than a lot of thrillers/horror movies.

In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • It made M. Night Shyamalan a household name for a while—a name quickly synonymous with suspense and twist endings; for a short time, Shyamalan was considered an heir apparent to Hitchcock and Spielberg.
  • It made shocking twists hip again. Arguably, movie audiences hadn’t had a major “don’t-tell-anyone” kind of twist ending like this since 1992’s “The Crying Game” or 1995’s “The Usual Suspects.” This yen for twist endings likely inspired subsequent movies to ape that formula, including “Fight Club,” “Memento,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” “The Others,” “The Ring,” “The Prestige,” “Shutter Island,” and “Room 1408.”
  • That surprise twist ending prompted many moviegoers to see the movie multiple times, often to observe how the filmmakers covered their tracks; you pay attention to the details on repeat viewings to make sure the director doesn’t cheat.
  • Like “The Blair Witch Project” that same year, “The Sixth Sense” became a word-of-mouth sensation, a film that people talked about strongly and widely well before social media was around to spread the word, helping the movie earn $673 million worldwide on a budget of only $40 million.

What’s the moral of the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “The Sixth Sense”?

  • The key to existence and fulfillment is communication.
  • We have to confront our fears head-on and not be intimidated by them.
  • We have to pay attention to the small details in life or else we miss the big picture (consider that Malcolm doesn’t realize he’s dead because he overlooks the small things).

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • You could make a case that the twist ending conceit doesn’t hold up well or is now to the movie’s detriment, as virtually everyone knows that (spoiler!) Bruce Willis’ character is a ghost, making the film less shocking or effective.
  • But you could say the same thing about a lot of classic films that employ startling twists, like “Psycho”; we still watch and treasure “Psycho” and this film because they are expertly directed, well-acted, and well written. 

This is a birthday celebration, after all, and birthdays are all about presents. Except it’s the fans who continue to get the gifts. What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • The casting and performances. 
    • Here, we have an amazingly credible, sensitive, and haunting portrayal by Haley Joel Osment—quite an achievement for an 11-year-old.
    • Bruce Willis is cast against his action hero type; he avoids his cliché smirk and rugged macho tendencies; it’s a subdued, melancholy, quiet role.
    • Toni Collette as Cole’s mom pulls off a great acting stint as a truly caring but smart, insightful American mom, despite the fact that she’s Australian.

Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 20 years? Why or why not?

  • While fewer people talk about “The Sixth Sense” today than they did 20 years ago, it’s hard to argue that the film’s power and quality have been diminished over two decades. It was a quality film then and now; hence, it should be revered as such 20 years from this time. 
  • However, because Shyamalan’s reputation and prestige has suffered so much in the last 15 years due to a string of poorly received pictures he directed, and assuming he doesn’t redeem that reputation over the next 20 years, it’s possible that “The Sixth Sense” may not enjoy as classic or venerated a status in the future as it would have if the director was more respected. It’s likely to be considered an anomaly or one-off in a filmography many will dismiss as subpar.

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