The Sixth Sense

USA 1999

Film still for The Sixth Sense

Reviewed by Philip Strick


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Philadelphia. Psychologist Malcolm Crowe is celebrating his latest award with his wife Anna when former patient Vincent Gray breaks in. Blaming Malcolm's therapy for his dementia, Vincent shoots him, then kills himself.

Months later Malcolm takes on the case of nine-year-old Cole Sear, a disturbed schoolboy living with his mother Lynn. While gaining the boy's confidence, Malcolm begins to have misgivings about his marriage, suspecting Anna of having an affair.

Malcolm enlists Cole's co-operation by telling him about Vincent, and at last Cole reveals his secret: he is visited by dead people only he can see, who plead for his help. Baffled by this delusion, Malcolm despairs of helping the boy, but Cole begs him not to abandon his case. Listening to the tape of his sessions with Vincent, Malcolm suspects a supernatural element and begins to reconsider Cole's claims.

One of Cole's 'visitors' Kyra leads Cole to a videotape that proves to the guests at her funeral that she was murdered. Cole is cheered by his schoolmates, previously his tormentors, for his performance in the school play. Able now to discuss his 'gift' with his mother, who accepts he has special powers, he and Malcolm agree there is no further need for therapy. Returning home, Malcolm recognises that his loving relationship with Anna will always survive Vincent's fatal bullet.


Constantly on the brink of explanation, The Sixth Sense in fact derives most of its fascination from explaining next to nothing. A mass of disquieting details, it takes a number of detours towards a final reversal that throws everything open to question. What was masquerading as one case history gradually becomes several, most prominently that of the psychologist but also those of the mother, the wife, the suicidal psychotic and an ever-widening circle of the troubled and dispossessed.

Inadvertent guide to these lost souls, whether they're alive or in some other limbo, is the bewildered schoolboy Cole. He eventually comes to terms with his power, graduating from crime buster to marriage counsellor while retaining the skills of a seaside-booth medium ("Grandma says 'Hi!'"). But what kind of future awaits him in the employment of his now-validated gift is left to the imagination.

Director/writer M. Night Shyamalan has been film-making since the age of ten, although primed for a top-grade medical career. Future retrospectives will doubtless reveal to British audiences his 45 short films, his acclaimed 1992 debut feature Praying With Anger, and his second film Wide Awake (1997). But for now, The Sixth Sense (and its huge US box-office success) looks to have materialised almost out of nowhere.

At least we can guess from the available clues that Shyamalan's main concerns are isolation (he took the role of his own 'ghost' in Praying With Anger) and the strains and tensions of family ties: Wide Awake is about the relationship between a Catholic schoolboy and his grandfather. And generous doses of autobiography can be detected in The Sixth Sense, both in the character of the cool-headed specialist who finds his career on the wrong path and in that of the child haunted by innumerable dramas in need of an audience.

These traits aside, the film's main appeal is the assurance with which it is made. Studiously versed in art-house classics as much as in Spielberg or Craven, Shyamalan's film is an attention-grabbing fusion of minimalism and overstatement. His horror story is shot as Tarkovsky might have shot it, with briefly glimpsed figures on the fringes and with constant ambiguities of action and attitude. Setting the mood, the opening scene in the wine cellar, the camera hiding furtively behind the racks, would persuade us that an unseen intruder is about to pounce, but he doesn't, and what we've gained instead is a sketch of a highly strung wife along with a timely reminder of the ritualistic status of wine. And then he pounces, in the bathroom where, moments earlier, the psychologist who is about to learn of failure has suggested they consign his latest award.

It fits together so smoothly that one feels that Shyamalan could leave almost anything on the screen for us to assimilate. Since, for instance, he knows Philadelphia, his home town, well, his glimpses of a landmark sculpture plainly add up to something more than the passage of time. But such references are part of the film's attraction as well as its weakness. Keeping us guessing before the full misery of Cole's predicament becomes apparent, there are curiously misleading hints of his paranormal powers, at their strongest in his mother's presence.

Leaving Cole in the kitchen for a moment, his mother returns to find every drawer and door open. Examining family photographs, she finds the same flash of light in each one. Such images have a vivid but unresolved potency, distracting us from more awkward matters. Where does the psychologist go between the Vincent episode and the Cole assignment? If Cole's visitors don't know they're dead, why do they want his help? The enigmas remain, but since another of Shyamalan's accomplishments has been to coax exquisite performances from his cast (including Haley Joel Osment and an intensely introverted Bruce Willis) we are happy to share their bewilderment rather than dismissing it.


Frank Marshall
Kathleen Kennedy
Barry Mendel
M. Night Shyamalan
Director of Photography
Tak Fujimoto
Andrew Mondshein
Production Designer
Larry Fulton
James Newton Howard
©Spyglass Entertainment Group, L P
Production Companies
Hollywood Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment present a Kennedy/Marshall/Barry Mendel production
The Kennedy/Marshall Company
Executive Producer
Sam Mercer
Production Supervisor
Lynn Andrews
Production Co-ordinator
Thomas Doc Boguski
Unit Production Manager
Sam Mercer
Location Manager
Andrew Ullman
Post-production Supervisor
Paul A. Levin
2nd Unit Director
Andrew Mondshein
Assistant Directors
John Rusk
Scott Robertson
Sonia Bhalla
Script Supervisor
Claire Cowperthwaite
Avy Kaufman
Julie Lichter
Beth Bowling
Sondra James
Additional Photography
David Golia
Camera Operator
Kyle Rudolph
Visual Effects
Dream Quest Images
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Tim Landry
Visual Effects Supervisor:
David McCullough
Special Effects
Garry Elmendorf
Bill Lee
Special Effects
Jeffrey Cox
Jim Orr
Art Director
Philip Messina
Set Decorator
Douglas Mowat
Scenic Artists
Greta Alexander
Margaret Boritz
Thom Bumblauskas
Jennifer Desnovée
Erika Katz
Nancy Stroud
John Thomas
Penny Thomas
Matthew Turner
Karen Wainwright
Storyboard Artist
Brick Mason
Dave Barnes
Kate Bartoldus
Costume Designer
Joanna Johnston
Key Costume Supervisor
Pam Wise
Key Artist:
Michael Bigger
Prosthetic Artist:
Richie Alonzo
Make-up Effects Design/Creation
Stan Winston Studio
Effects Supervisor:
John Rosengrant
Key Artists:
Richie Alonzo
Lindsay MacGowan
Scott Stoddard
Trevor Hensley
Joey Orosco
Mechanical Design:
Al Sousa
Key Hair:
Michael Ornelaz
Mold Department Supervisor:
Anthony McCray
Mold Department:
Darin Bouyssou
Grady Holder
Carey Jones
Alon Dori
Key Fabrication:
Connie Cadwell
Production Co-ordinator:
Stiles White
Key Hairstylist
Francesca Paris
Titles Design/Production
The Picture Mill
Cineric Inc
Orchestra Conductor
Pete Anthony
Jeff Atmajian
Brad Dechter
Robert Elhai
James Newton Howard
Executive in Charge of Music, Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group
Kathy Nelson
Electronic Score Production
J.T. Hill
Music Editor
Thomas S. Drescher
Score Recordist/Mixer
Shawn Murphy
Auricle Operator
Richard Grant
"I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, performed by Chet Baker; "Crazy Girl" by/performed by Jamie Dunlap, Scott Nickoley; "Come See About Me" by Brian Holland, Edward Holland Jr, Lamont Dozier, performed by The Supremes; "Head" by Timothy Bircheno, David Tomlinson, Tim Gordine, performed by Tin Star; "Space Cocktail" by Laurent Lombard, Syd Dale, performed by Laurent Lombard; "Unknown Rider" by Travis Bracht, Dudley Taft, performed by Second Coming; "Piano Quintet in A Major D667, 'Trout' Andante (Tema con variazoni)" by Franz Schubert, performed by The Colorado String Quartet
Sound Design
Michael Kirchberger
Paul Soucek
Sound Mixer
Allan Byer
Re-recording Mixers
Reilly Steele
Michael Kirchberger
Harry Higgins
Supervising Sound Editor
Michael Kirchberger
Dialogue Editor
David A. Cohen
Sound Effects Editors
Jennifer Ware
Larry Oatfield
Sound Effects Recording
Dan Gleich
David Boulton
Ian McLoughlin
Kenton Jakub
Margie O'Malley
Marnie Moore
Grant Foerster
Ben Conrad
Roy Waldspurger
David Bergad
Stunt Co-ordinator
Jeff Habberstad
Animal Handler
Barbara Muehleib
Bruce Willis
Malcolm Crowe
Toni Collette
Lynn Sear
Olivia Williams
Anna Crowe
Haley Joel Osment
Cole Sear
Donnie Wahlberg
Vincent Gray
Glenn Fitzgerald
Mischa Barton
Kyra Collins
Trevor Morgan
Tommy Tammisimo
Bruce Norris
Stanley Cunningham
Peter Tambakis
Jeffrey Zubernis
Greg Wood
Mr Collins
Angelica Torn
Mrs Collins
Lisa Summerour
Firdous Bamji
young man buying ring
Samia Shoaib
young woman buying ring
Hayden Saunier
Darren's mom
Janis Dardaris
kitchen woman
Neill Hartley
Sarah Ripard
Heidi Fischer
Kadee Strickland
Michael J. Lyons
Samantha Fitzpatrick
Kyra's sister
Holly Rudkin
Kate Kearney-Patch
society ladies
Marilyn Shanok
woman at accident
M. Night Shyamalan
Doctor Hill
Wes Heywood
commercial narrator
Nico Woulard
hanged child
Carol Nielson
hanged female
Keith Woulard
hanged male
Jodi Dawson
burnt teacher
Tony Donnelly
gunshot boy
Ronnie Lea
Carlos X. López
Spanish ghost on tape
Gino Inverso
young Vincent Gray
Ellen Sheppard
Mrs Sloan
Tom McLaughlin
Anna's father
Candy Aston Dennis
Anna's mother
Patrick F. McDade
shaken driver
José L. Rodriguez
Buena Vista International (UK)
9,666 feet
107 minutes 24 seconds
SDDS/Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound
In Colour
Prints by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011