SIXTH SENSE, THE

PG-13

-By Ed Kelleher


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When is a horror movie not a horror movie? Following a recent all-media screening of M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis, clusters of moviegoers-at least as many women as men-lingered in the aisles during the film's closing credits to discuss what they had just seen. Part old-fashioned scary movie, part psychological thriller, and part-dare we say it?-New Age hokum, The Sixth Sense appears likely to generate some lively movie debate over the rest of the summer.

Willis plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a Philadelphia child psychologist. In the suspenseful opening minutes of the film, Crowe is shot in the stomach (not too seriously) by a nighttime intruder who turns out to be one of the doctor's former child patients. 'You failed me!' shouts the troubled Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg) before turning the gun on himself. Not surprisingly, Crowe and his wife Anna (Olivia Williams) are shaken by this incident, all the more so when the psychologist takes on a new patient, a troubled nine-year-old named Cole (Haley Joel Osment), whose psychological profile somewhat resembles that of the late Gray.

Cole lives with his divorced mother Lynn (Toni Collette), but, in a sense, he has a completely separate existence. He is continually visited by ghosts-strange, often gruesome dead people that only he can see. Something of a wary channel, Cole is, at the same time, a bright, intuitive boy and a confused kid, for whom every day is a nightmarish minefield which can rise up and terrify him, all the more so because no one else can see what is so disturbingly real to him. When Dr. Crowe tosses an emotional lifeline to Cole, the boy is thankful, but the horrific visions still won't go away.

Crowe's motivation to help Cole is well-intentioned, but it is also linked to the doctor's guilt at having failed his earlier patient. Taking an increased interest in Cole's case, Crowe vows that he will not abandon him to the terrors that seem to threaten the boy night and day. But there is more to Cole's dilemma than meets the eye and, during its third act, The Sixth Sense lures its audience into something of a surprise denouement.

Willis turns in one of his familiar performances, but the movie's acting honors go to the 11-year-old Osment, previously best-known for playing 'Forrest, Jr.' in Forrest Gump. With the face almost of a grown man, young Osment is all the more touching as a child who has grown up too quickly for the horrors he must confront. This is one of the better child performances we are likely to see all year. As for the film itself, it's best described, ultimately, as a feel-good horror movie, and there appears to be an audience for that, provided filmgoers can talk among themselves and not give away the ending.

--Ed Kelleher


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