Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:47 - Released 8/6/99

Bruce Willis has certainly done his share of explosion-rich action adventures, but I like him better in films like this one. The Sixth Sense, a smart chiller written and directed by Indian-born M. Night Shyamalan (Praying With Anger, Wide Awake), provides horror and heart at the same time, with excellent acting and eye-catching cinema. Though Willis does a fine job, his part is not really the lead. That designation falls on young Haley Joel Osment (Murphy Brown, The Jeff Foxworthy Show), who does an astounding job with a creepy part.

Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Willis) is an award-winning child psychologist from Philadelphia who has lost his ambition after a former patient visited him with a handgun. Accusing the doctor of failing him, the young man (played briefly but hauntingly by Donnie Wahlberg) shoots Malcolm in the abdomen and himself in the head. When we see him again, Malcolm is despondent and detached, but he meets Cole Sear (Osment), a young lad from a broken home who is continually haunted by images of the dead. Because Cole reminds him of the former patient, Malcolm thinks maybe he can absolve himself by helping the boy. So he begins treatment, gradually drawing the terrified child out of his shell.

Although Cole's mother Lynn (Toni Collette) is very loving to the boy, she doesn't understand what's happening to him. He sees visions, is ostracized by other children, and has trouble sleeping at night. What's more, Lynn regularly finds marks on his body — cuts, scars, scratches, bruises. When she takes him to a doctor (played by writer/director Shyamalan), she is briefly accused of abusing the child herself. She places her faith in Malcolm, but he discovers that his involvement in Cole's case has caused an ever-widening chasm between himself and his beloved wife (Olivia Williams).

This film almost defies classification. Though it has images of horror which rival those in The Shining and An American Werewolf In London, it also contains a bittersweet love story and some heartwarming relationship work between Osment and his two adult co-stars. This is a very deep part for Willis, and he plays it with subtlety and finesse. Collette is also excellent as Cole's confused, weary mother. But Osment deserves the lion's share of praise. Shyamalan's subtlety with the horrific special effects strikes a nice midpoint between recent releases The Blair Witch Project (which has no effects but relies on the horror of the imagination) and The Haunting (which beats you to death with computer-generated imagery). Also, his interesting cinematic choices make the film aesthetically enjoyable.

The Sixth Sense is a nice blend of story, fine performances, and subtle but startling visuals. It is the only film I've seen that gives you the creeps and the warm fuzzies all at the same time. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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