Review of M. Night Shyamalan's film "The Sixth Sense"

Suraj N. Kurapati

One of the things I had immediately noticed when the film started was the combination of sound and the video. The movie starts out in the basement cellar of Malcolm’s home; a kind of dark and scary place. In this scene the camera is placed behind the wine racks to show foreground framing, and the loneliness as Anna and her shadow are the only ones in the room.

In suspenseful scenes such as the scene where the intruder comes into the bedroom, the volume dramatically increases as the audience is slowly revealed of who the intruder is. I found that the casting choice for the initial intruder/murderer was brilliant. He conveyed to the audience pure fear and paranoia mixed with the social pressures of him being a “freak”.

As for the three levels of film, they were brilliantly plotted into the movie. At the first level of film, the audience is revealed the outcast that is Cole the boy who can see ghosts. This title could also extend to Vincent, the intruder/murderer who Malcolm was unable to help in the past. After all, Malcolm does find out a mass amount of information about Cole by looking through Vincent’s files. At the second level of film, the audience argues in favor of Cole when Malcolm is about to give up his trials with Cole. The audience is put into thinking that Malcolm is just giving up this case like he had given up on Vincent years before. At the third level of film, I find that instead of Malcolm helping out Cole solving his problems, Cole teaches Malcolm a lot about his predicament. Malcolm does not realize that he is a ghost until the ending. Malcolm tries to figure out what is bothering Cole, what kinds of normal events cause such behavior in children (such as divorce). He tries to get Cole to work with him by telling stories, showing magic tricks, and through games. An especially symbolic scene which displays how initially, Malcolm had no idea of what condition Cole was in, is the scene where Malcolm asks Cole to step forward if Malcolm makes a correct assumption and take a step back if he is wrong. The audience finds that Malcolm knows little or nothing about Cole and the type of problems he is dealing with. Malcolm says “that is the watch your father gave you before he went away” and Cole steps back. At every wrong assumption, Cole reveals a bit more about his special case. This scene shows that Malcolm (who thinks he can help almost anybody through normal events such as divorces) is somewhat naïve in thinking he can classify most any patient. Cole slowly reveals to Malcolm secrets of the ghosts and secrets of himself as the movie progresses. In this sense, Cole is actually the psychiatrist and Malcolm the patient.

I found the lighting to be extremely convincing of the suspenseful and eerie scenes in the film. For example, there is a shot of Malcolm walking down the street to his house, the streets are totally deserted, it is dark and gloomy, and shadows of ivy trees create an eerie feeling in the night. Another example is the scene where schoolmates lock Cole in a closet. The stairwell is kind of gloomy, even though it is day outside; the lighting inside seems dulled down – cold and harsh. There is great contrast to the white walls of the stairwell and the dark brown, almost slick black color of the railing. It is almost symbolic that a red balloon should float up into such a void; a connection is shown of Cole and the red balloon. For example, when the ghost to the point has abused Cole where he becomes unconscious, the red balloon pops. The color and lighting in the film give a cold and distant feeling; almost as if around every corner there lays imminent doom awaiting Cole and Malcolm. A contrary shot to the overall lighting and color used in the film is the initial scene where Malcolm gets his award. The color in the room is warm and golden orange. A fantastic reflection shot is shown where Malcolm and Anna are shown through the reflection in the award plaque. This scene can be compared to the cold and harsh color and lighting effects used in the stairwell scene.

There were awesome displays of cinematography and camerawork in this film. Reflection shots for one were by far the most impressive in the film. The scene where Cole is about to open the door to the girl’s room is absolutely brilliant. The audience is shown the reflection of Cole and Malcolm standing behind him and Cole reaching toward the doorknob. Another scene is the beginning where a ghost suddenly opens up all of the cabinets in the kitchen and Cole’s mom is shocked. When Cole leaves the table, the heat from his palms slowly disappears from the table surface. I think this was a really good shot because it shows the audience that Cole was sitting there the whole time, scared, and as still as can be while his mother doesn’t have a clue about what is going on with her son.

Bruce Willis was great as Malcolm in this film. He truly showed the pain and suffering Malcolm was undergoing from the neglect of his wife. And the casting of Cole to Haley Joel Osment was a great choice. The kid really showed convincing reactions to scary events as well as the comforting events when he is having talks with Malcolm. He did not overdo any of the scenes I thought; he is a true prodigy! One of the best reactions I saw in the film was the reaction of the father of the girl who was poisoned to death. The close ups of his face and reactions to the horrible treatment of his daughter by her attendee was sheer brilliance. This guy can really portray his character so well. All of the actors in the film were VERY convincing and I think are immensely talented except for the one guy who tries to hit on Malcolm’s wife. I do not like the way he acted out his part, it is not convincing compared to the other characters.

The soundtrack for this film truly suited the mysterious theme and suspenseful locations. The soundtrack score conveys a sense of unknown mystery as well as initial journey and experimentation into the unknown. I found that in the scene where Malcolm reviews an old session tape of Vincent; music is played until he finally stumbles upon the voice of the ghost that haunted Vincent at the time. This symbolizes the confusion of Malcolm until he finally sees the answer and all is silent except for the voice of the ghost. Suspenseful audio is used to shock the audience in the scene where Cole has to urinate and the temperature goes down. Suddenly a woman walks by which would not be very scary by itself but the added sound! Oh my goodness that startled me up very effectively. I would not have been scared or shocked for that one moment if it were not for the sound.

Montage, parallel cutting, and mise en scene were very predominant themes in the editing of this film. Quick takes of eerie ghosts walking about dark hallways really brings chills to the audience. Time is cleverly manipulated in the film to give a false sense of Malcolm being alive during the next fall when he goes to visit Cole.

I chose this particular film because my cousin said it was a scary film and I was also interested because it is written and directed by an Indian guy. I do not see many Indian people in American film so I though this would be a good chance for me to see what has been done by those that are already in the film industry. This movie had a really great effect on me. Even now as I am writing this, mind wanders to the empty places in my room. The film has made me very paranoid and I hope this feeling will pass soon because I cannot live in fear like this! This does however give me a bit of insight into Cole who is constantly scared by ghosts. I am really scaring myself now, I should stop. This was a very well done film in my opinion. It includes three levels of film, brilliant editing, cinematography and sound. Most importantly the McGuffin and twist present in the film are one of my favorite aspects of the film. I was so surprised to find that Malcolm was actually dead the whole time. This then made me realize all of the little details during the film, like the fact that Malcolm never touches Cole.

This has been one of the best films I’ve seen in a while and I highly recommend it. It will be put in my favorites list and I think I will go out and buy the DVD.