The Sixth Sense is a Horrible Goddamn Movie
Should someone who calls himself “M. Night” really be allowed behind a camera? It’s a question that’s dogged people for ages. And now that we have The Sixth Sense, The Sixth Sense Redux: Unbreakable, and a third M. Night movie about crop circles currently in production (look for a surprise ending in which Mel Gibson discovers that he was an alien all along), I think it’s high time someone took M. Night Shyamalan down a peg or two, especially in regard to his well-regarded debut The Sixth Sense.
There are so many reasons to dislike The Sixth Sense, it’s hard to keep them all straight. From the top down, it’s just a bad movie: There’s the enormous plot holes. There’s the inexplicable behavior of the Bruce Willis character. There’s the violations in the movie’s own logic. There’s the unfulfilled promise of dead people “everywhere, all the time.” There’s the laughable quick-fix resolution. There’s the cheat of an ending. And there’s the boredom. Oh dear God, the boredom.
First of all: The Sixth Sense has been praised for its “pacing,” when in fact it is just plain dull. Haley Joel stares at Bruce Willis. Bruce Willis stares at Toni Colette. Toni Colette stares at Haley Joel. The audience stares at their watches. A full forty-five minutes go by before Haley Joel comes out with his “I see dead people” line, and until that it’s mostly thumb-twiddling and head scratching. This is not pacing: this is wasting my goddamn time.
Nothing the movie tells us turns out to be true: when Haley Joel finally does come out with the fact that he sees dead people “everywhere, all the time,” it’s a flat-out lie; he sees about half a dozen dead people the whole movie. And Bruce Willis, though he’s supposed to be playing an award winning child psychologist, acts as if he’s never spoken to a child in his life. He seems to win Haley Joel’s trust by hanging around and staring – he’s more like a creepy homeless person than a doctor of medicine. Here’s a for instance: would the best child psychologist in the city really look up – and highlight — that “patients’ wounds may be self-inflicted?” Do award-winning doctors typically have to reference the Child Psychology for Dummies in the course of an average work week?
And when Willis finally does believe the kid, it’s only because M. Night has written in a deux ex machina that violates the very premise of the movie. Haley Joel is supposed to be the only person (besides Donnie Walhberg) who can see or hear ghosts — fine. Bruce Willis, who doesn’t realize he’s dead, cannot hear or see ghosts — fine. And yet Bruce Willis is able to hear a ghost that has been recorded on a cassette tape? Does this cassette recorder have the Sixth Sense too? Or maybe it’s one of those new Sony CD-Quality Sixth Sense audio cassettes. Or maybe — since Willis has to turn the volume up to 10 before he can hear the ghost — dead people are just very, very quiet.
Next, the Dynamic Duo have to uncover the Mystery of the Vomiting Dead Girl, which plays out like the worst after-school special ever made. It’s about the most over-the-top episode M. Night could come up with: we’re supposed to buy — completely out of nowhere — a woman who kills her children with poisoned soup, admonishing them to “Finish it all, I don’t care if it tastes funny”? For Christ’s sake, the woman stops just short of winking at the camera. And forget that this bizarre leap into the world of suburban infanticide requires a Herculean suspension of disbelief: this random tangent, with not a goddamn thing to do with the story, serves as the resolution! After this, Haley Joel is happy, friendly, the lead in the school play, and ready to tell his mother about his stupid secret. Just like that! What happened to the ghosts that wanted to beat him up? What happened to the hostile outbursts against his teachers? What happened to the fear of head wound victims and the strange attachment to his father’s things? Well, I guess they’re all okay, because that’s the last we see of the little moppet. Besides, it’s time for the Big Fucking Surprise.
So: Here we are at the ending. It’s all about the ending. Once we get the “Oh My God I’m Already Dead” look from Willis, review all the scenes where yes, sure enough, he was already dead, and hear Willis say that he “thinks he can move on”, we’re meant to be so blown away that we don’t consider the inherent problems this surprise causes. Forget that little Haley Joel should have either seen Willis for what he was: a dead guy. Forget that, even if Haley Joel was fooled into thinking Willis was alive, he probably would have talked to someone about the therapist who was following him around everywhere he went (“Hey, mom, that new psychiatrist you got to speak to me sure is creepy. Does he ever stop staring?”) Forget that M. Night has so much contempt for his audience that he thinks no one will notice these obvious plot holes (and, to his credit, not one critic seems to have proved his contempt unjustified). The real crime is that the ending is the reason for the movie. The movie could have, and should have, been no more than twenty minutes — but of course twenty minutes does not a major motion picture take. So M. Night had to fill up an hour and a half of film with staring, highlighting, and a smattering of dead people, just so he could pull the old “But he’s already dead” trick on us. It’s a cheat of a movie, an empty exercise in shocking plot twist and stock horror cinematography (I don’t have the time or space to devote to the crappy horror clichés M. Night indulges in — when he’s not ripping off better films, that is) that makes for a plodding, plotless chore of a story.
If you want a quality film that takes M. Night’s quarter-baked idea and makes it into a genuine story, go see The Others. If you want to indulge in shocking plot twists and truly cool surprise endings, go see Memento. And if you want to see a spooky kid haunted by ghosts in a movie with incredible pacing, a true sense of menace, an explosive finale and a bizarre final twist that is truly unshakable, go rent The Shining. You can thank me in cash.