The Sixth Sense ★★★½

(I’m pretty sick of the popular perception that M. Night Shyamalan made one perfect film near the start of his career (The Sixth Sense) and never made a decent follow up. The fact is that The Sixth Sense is quite good, especially going in blind, but Shyamalan’s next two are near masterpieces. And slowly but surely, the director does lose his touch with some ill-conceived projects, but along the way his filmography began to chase Hollywood trends instead of setting them and that’s where he really starts to slip. Unbreakable predates the superhero craze, Signs is still one of a kind, and The Village was an usual period thriller. But it’s almost like he gets frustrated after that. The recent turn of The Visit and Split has shifted the Shyamalan narrative into a comeback story and a return to form, but I really don’t see any commonality between The Sixth Sense and Split.)

And so The Sixth Sense. For a young director, this is full-bodied. With Willis, one of the biggest stars of the decade, a score by James Newton Howard, and a full release from Buena Vista, there was a lot behind Shyamalan’s filmmaking that allowed it the opportunity to be successful. This is the only instance I can think of an unproven director coming out of the gate this stacked. There still isn’t much polish to the direction, but the writing is there and everything else works in the film’s favor. It definitely came at the right time, back when families still watched movies together, back when a star still had draw, and when word of mouth was good enough to get people to the theater. And the cultural phenomenon factor even today informs my appreciation of the film. I let the drab cinematography slide and watched intently, paying extra attention to any foreshadowing of the famous twist. 

What I love most is the emphasis on story in these early Shyamalan films. Has there been another writer-director since who has told sci-fi stories in such a holistic way three or four films in a row? (Jordan Peele is looking to carry that torch, we’ll see how Us turns out...) Shyamalan’s storytelling is all about concept and characters, and The Sixth Sense really only holds up because it’s constructed so well.