Which brings us to The Sixth Sense.
I’m going to spend the next five days looking back at the films of Shyamalan in preparation for the Bolivian release of The Happening, which opens here on June 19th. It goes without saying that these posts will include spoilers. But I know that anyone who actually takes the time to read them will have seen the films. So anyway… Here we go.
WHAT AN EFFECTIVELY CREEPY WAY TO OPEN A HORROR PICTURE.
I´m not sure if it hit me right away, but there was something to that haunting opening credits sequence accompanied by James Newton Howard´s excellent musical score. It was rare to even see an extended opening credits sequence in a mainstream horror movie anyway (It’s usually a spectacular graphic of the title, or the credits play in bland white letters over the equally mundane opening scenes of the movie), and the fact that they are clearly used to set a mood is worth noting as well. Ditto that first shot of the lightbulb in the basement… Just great storytelling. Then comes a nicely staged and acted dialogue (even with the pedantic Dr. Seuss reference), followed by a terrific sequence of almost palpable dread and suspense that is made all the more effective by the best performance ever by any member of the Wahlberg family.
I sat in a dark theater the evening of August 6th, 1999 and this movie was scaring the shit out of me in its first 15 minutes. I couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. And The Blair Witch Project, which I had seen a few weeks earlier, was one of the biggest disappointments of my life. I´m still trying to figure out where those 60,000 dollars went. Because the money sure as shit wasn’t up there on the screen.
BRUCE WILLIS CAN ACT… AND WELL.
I always thought Bruno was a cool guy. And I watched him try to “act” in films like Mortal Thoughts and even Color of Night… I watched him try to be a stand-up comedian in The Last Boy Scout. … I watched him get overshadowed by Brad Pitt´s hamminess in Twelve Monkeys…
But, here, I was watching him deliver a completely subdued, subtle, credible performance. I was completely won over by this child psychologist with something to prove. Some director I had never heard of had somehow managed to make this big, egotistical movie star dial it down… Delivering the best performance of his career. I remember being equally impressed a year later, when I watched Unbreakable.
IS THAT FORREST GUMP’S SON?
Speaking of acting, I was, like most, thoroughly impressed with Haley Joel Osment. Yes, there was a smug obnoxiousness to his interviews in the dvd special features. But there´s no denying his chops as an actor. In the quiet scenes with the equally excellent Toni Collette, in his realistic reactions to the spooky goings on of the film’s plot, and the fact that the entire weight of the narrative is entrusted to him. It takes talent to pull that off. It’s too bad he’s grown into a thoroughly awkward-looking young man, because he deserves to have a career, even if it’s now almost unpleasant to have his face staring at you from the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
WOW… I ALMOST SHIT MY PANTS
Yes, there are make-up effects. And it uses the tried and true formula of punctuating every visual gag with a strident bass line that reverberates throughout the theater and forces you to jump out of your seat like a drooling Pavlov subject…
But fuck the individual little shocks. That’s just cheap, Coney Island scare ride tactics. The way the movie slowly gets under your skin is something else. The combination of Tak Fujimoto’s atmospheric photography, Howard’s great music and Shyamalan’s deliberate pacing, result in a stunningly effective mood piece. That’s what works. That’s why the movie is genuinely scary. It’s not just a woman in a bathrobe showing you the scars on her wrists.
SO THIS IS A TWIST MOVIE?
Unlike the 100% bullshitters who will swear up and down they saw it coming, the ending to this thing floored me. Because I thought the movie was over. A bit anticlimactc perhaps, an odd, unspectacular way to resolve a thriller, but an ending nonetheless. And that scene between Osment and Collette is genuinely moving.
Then we have the shot of Bruce Willis going home. And I’m thinking: The storytelling was pretty tight on this thing, must we have an extended epilogue? What, he’s gonna walk in on Olivia Williams screwing her young classmate? Is this quiet. meditative movie going to climax with some John McClaine ass-kicking? Not likely. What is this?
Like most, I was stunned silent by Shyamalan’s final revelation. Because I couldn’t believe it hadn’t ocurred to me? Yes. Because it’s a brilliantly excecuted bit of misdirection? Yes. But what kills me the most about the ending is what gets to me about the whole film as a whole…
IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK IT’S ABOUT
This is not a spooky ghost story about a kid that gets the shit scared out of him by little girls puking, suicidal housewives and kids with gunshots through the backs of their heads.
This is a movie about communication. And the lack of it in modern families. Be they couples or nuclear. Parents don’t listen to their children. Married couples don’t talk to each other. That’s why people don’t stay together very long, very often. Because they don’t know how to communicate. When Cole sits in that car with his mother at the end of the picture, they’ve finally connected. And Bruce Willis’s ghost is a metaphor for how it goes in most relationships these days. One of you is doing all the talking. Right up until you’re literally sitting in a corner talking to yourself, wondering why he/she went away.
Shyamalan uses a mainstream thriller to actually comment on a reality of the human condition.
But, to this day, all people can talk about is the angle at which their jaws opened as they gasped at the end. They’ve reduced a pretty complex bit of storytelling to a trick ending.
Can you blame him for trying to catch lightning in a bottle again?