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The Sixth Sense

A good suspense reveals nothing until the end. Questions like "who is Keyser Soze" and "what's in the briefcase " have audiences glued to their seats until the very last minute. "The Sixth Sense" asks no questions and gives no answers. It takes the viewers on what seems to be a familiar route only to turn their expectations completely around at the end.

At first glance, the movie may seem formulaic. Bruce Willis plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a renowned specialist in the field of child psychology. The film opens with an intimate celebration between Malcolm and his wife, Anna (Olivia Williams), rejoicing over an award he has just received in recognition of his work. The festivity is disrupted when they discover Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg), a disgruntled former patient, in their bedroom. Vincent faults Malcolm for misdiagnosing him when he was a child and shoots the pleading psychologist before turning the gun on himself.

Malcolm's marriage and his confidence are in bad shape after the tragedy. He sets out to treat the introverted Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), an 8 year-old boy who exhibits the same troubling traits as Vincent, to lessen his guilt. Cole is reluctant at first, but eventually entrusts the psychologist with his secrets. It turns out that Cole has the supernatural ability to see ghosts and has been tormented daily by the living-dead.

A parallel between the doctor and the patient emerges and develops as their bond deepens. Both protagonists alienate themselves from the one they love - Malcolm from his estranged wife, and Cole from his caring mother (Toni Colette). Events unfold as Malcolm searches for a cure and the two struggle to bridge the gap in their disparate relationship.

By now, audiences may be thinking, "been there, done that." At times, the movie threatens to devolve into the usual melodramatic repertoire of reconciliation. It could have easily been another one of the cookie-cutter psychological thrillers Hollywood has seen of late. What gives this one its vitality are the performances, its subtle use of horror, and the cohesive writing (with a huge payoff at the end) of director-writer M. Night Shyamalan.

Solid performances amply make up for any underdeveloped characters. Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collete are particularly noteworthy as the stoic child and disconcerting mother. Even Bruce Willis (taking a break from his hard-boiled action hero persona) delivers more than his trademark smirk as the sympathetic psychologist.

Calculated suspense keeps the pervasive sentimentality from becoming overly maudlin. The film doesn't rely on gore or special effects to produce an ambience of psychic horror (although the gothic motif is a bit overdone). Instead, it conveys fear by sticking to the tropes of classic horror. Senses are manipulated by use of sound; unease is slowly built by control of the film"s tempo, and shock is achieved through effective displays of grotesque imagery, which lend the film an unexpected twist of camp and humor.

A good script compels viewers to retrace the progression of the plot and to reevaluate narrative inconsistencies at the end. "The Sixth Sense" invites such retrospection. It seems to be marked by small inconsistencies that defy common sense at first. In fact, these narrative ruptures are integral parts of the plot, and their roles can only be understood and appreciated in light of the end of the film.

To say that "The Sixth Sense" is one step ahead of the audience would be an understatement, for the film"s progression is as much a system of revelation as it is an intelligent decoy. If anything, it's the film"s ability to completely engage the audience that makes the outcome so impossible to predict.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for intense thematic material and violent images.

'The Sixth Sense'

Haley Joel Osment: Cole Sear

Bruce Willis: Malcolm Crowe

Toni Collette: Lynn Sear

Olivia Williams: Anna Crowe

Donnie Wahlberg: Vincent Gray

Hollywood Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment present a Kennedy/Marshall/Barry Mendel production. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Producers Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy and Barry Mendel. Executive producer Sam Mercer. Director of photography Tak Fujimoto. Editor Andrew Mondshein. Production designer Larry Fulton. Art director Philip Messina. Set decorator Douglas Mowat. Costume designer Joanna Johnston. Music by James Newton Howard. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.