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Few films are as iconic as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, and as the pop culture hit approaches its 20th anniversary (let that sink in), we look back at what made it such a phenomenon.
The supernatural horror instantly knocked expectations out of the park when it hit cinemas in 1999. In fact, it was such a success that it was nominated for six Academy Awards and became the highest-grossing horror film of all time – a record it managed to maintain until being surpassed by It in 2017. So, the question is, what exactly made this movie such an interesting and enjoyable piece of cinema?
No surprise, the first point of call when talking about The Sixth Sense’s success is 100% the twist. It’s such an iconic moment that it’s still being spoken about and referenced to this day, alongside the seminal “I see dead people” line.
In this current age of cinema, CGI too often moves to the top of the agenda when it comes to supernatural films, pushing the potential for a thrilling storyline to the curb and leaving viewers wanting more. As such, it can be difficult to find a really well done third act twist. Every scene in The Sixth Sense is carefully thought out, so much so that most audience members never saw the twist coming. Add to that the fact that the internet was still evolving and spoilers weren’t as prevalent as they are in 2019.
It’s not just the twist itself that’s brilliant, but the lead-up to it. When Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) finally works up the courage to trust Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), he says; “[Dead people] only see what they want to see.” This is what really sells it; every ghost we encounter from Cole’s perspective is very obviously dead. However, as Malcolm is the protagonist of this film, the audience experiences things from his point of view, and it’s not until he himself comes to the damning realisation that the audience is allowed to be clued in.
What’s truly surprising about The Sixth Sense is the classification; a mere PG-13 rating doesn’t really inspire confidence in the spooks and twists a suspense/thriller hybrid usually promises. Bear with us, though, and look past that because there are a number of hard-hitting moments that are 1,000 times scarier than any R rated content.
It’s the psychologically thrilling aspects of the film that hit home the hardest. Shyamalan managed to create an entire world within the film that truly allowed the audience to experience just how terrifying it would be to encounter ghosts on a daily basis, especially as an ill-equipped 10-year-old boy. Thus, The Sixth Sense was able to promise viewers an innovative horror, something that left its audience genuinely scared, not disappointed. Everything is believable. Even the ghosts. That is what truly makes the film such an outstanding suspense/thriller hybrid.
Perhaps part of its brilliance was due to the mindset of Shyamalan at the time of writing, who was coming off his second film, Wide Awake, which was a box office flop, and was reportedly determined to turn things around. Whatever the reason, The Sixth Sense is genuinely just an exceptionally well-done film that you can’t help but love.