Oddly enough, the best movie of the year so far at directing the audience toward spiritual truths is structured as a classic ghost story. Some fundamentalists might argue that any movie that uses communication with the dead as a basis is occultish and anti-Christian; but "The Sixth Sense" uses the device to explore issues of loss-- surprisingly-- in a emotionally and spiritually sound manner.
Bruce Willis plays Malcom Crowe, a renowned Philadelphia child psychologist who is a bit of an emotional wreck himself, after being shot by a patient. Crowe is distant from his loving wife (Olivia Williams of "Rushmore") but connects deeply with his newest patient, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment).
Crowe tries to work out his feelings of guilt by working with young Cole, whose mother (Toni Collette) and teachers say is becoming withdrawn in the wake of his parents' divorce.
But Malcom finds that Cole is more disturbed by people who refuse to leave-- mainly people who have died in the various places Cole hangs out in. "They don't know they're dead," he tells Malcom. Cole finds refuge in his Church, and after Malcom explains the principle of Sanctuary, touchingly builds his own retreat in a pup tent in his bedroom complete with borrowed icons.
Because "The Sixth Sense" has such a great final twist, I don't want to say too much about the plot in order to avoid giving clues-- though writer/director N. Night Shyamalan certainly plays fair with the audience and gives us plenty. But the plot is beside the point, anyway. Shyamalan's real achievement here is an emotionally deep script that treats its characters-- both living and dead-- with real compassion.
The great sense of old Philadelphia atmosphere adds to the general spookiness, but a trio of terrific performances make the story ring true. Bruce Willis brings his down to earth persona to a role filled with sorrow and compassion, and Toni Collette ("Muriel's Wedding") is superb as a mother trying to hold things together--who notably prays for her son AND makes the necessary sacrifices to send him to Catholic school.
But the real standout is Haley Joel Osment, a remarkably accomplished young actor, who turns in a grave and intelligent performance. Unlike most kids, he does far more than look cute or pitiful in reaction to the adults around him. His interaction with Willis and Collette is convincing and skillful-- and may be remembered at Oscar time.
"The Sixth Sense" has a few jump out of your seat moments, but Shyamalan knows that the fear of loss and of the unknown are far more real than being pursued by goblins. His themes of being ready for Eternity, of telling the ones we love how we feel about them before it's too late, and of the way secrets destroy intimacy and trust-- not to mention an implied notion that real satisfaction in life comes from answering God's call to minister to others-- make this the most uplifting movie you'll find filed in the "Horror" section of your video store in the foreseeable future.