Watcher Beware! The Sixth Sense is how I discovered the term emetophobia: fear of vomit. Unfortunately, a minor character’s plot thread depends on her illness, and she jump-scare appears puking the first time we see her. She’s the third “visitor” to the Sears’ apartment, and the hints that she’s coming are pretty clear. This movie also contains implicit child abuse and a brief image of self-harm. It does not pass the Bechdel Test, and the only Black character with a speaking part (in a movie set in Philadelphia… come on, now) is given a brief but painful “soul sister” monologue.
I imagine there’s only about two of you out there who either have not seen The Sixth Sense or have not had the ending spoiled for you anyway. (I was in elementary school when it was released, and even the kids who hadn’t seen it were spouting “I see dead people” as attempted referential “humor”.) Thus, this is more of a musing than a straight review. I rewatched The Sixth Sense for about the fifth time last night, and I must say it holds up well, considering that it’s two parts TV14 post-divorce schmaltz to one part abject terror.
Back when I was too young for the R rating, I routinely named The Sixth Sense as my favorite horror movie- and back in 1999, it was marketed as the scariest ride in theaters, a Four Loko that would sour with age rather than the young wine it turned out to be. Having since substantially expanded my repertoire, it retains an honored spot in my top ten for two reasons:
1. My childhood bedroom had French doors in place of one full wall. The night my parents rented The Sixth Sense was particularly windy. The Ghost Behind The Door scene shook me up pretty badly anyway… but then, rather than being able to sleep, I was treated to more door banging all night long. I was terrified. I loved it.
2. If you ask five people who the scariest or most unnerving ghost in this movie is, you’ll get five different answers. My aunt picks the housewife suicide victim, an old friend the gun accident child. Being emetophobic, Mischa Barton always took first place for me, followed closely by Behind The Door Guy. But the ghosts get notably less scary and more tragic with each watch. I’m no longer too frightened of any of them- I’m not positive that you’re meant to be- but the hanged mixed race family makes my heart hurt the most.
This is the first viewing in which I really noticed Toni Collette, straight-playing Lynn Sear, a mother who unabashedly loves her kid. (It would be another decade before Collette had her own; I’m very impressed that she pulled off a performance this strong without experience in the field.) Noticing that Cole is down while they’re shopping, she “races” the cart until he laughs. They share an ongoing game of describing their ideal days rather than the ones they’ve had. She talks in her sleep, threatening the people she thinks are hurting Cole (see what I mean about schmaltz?). The effect on Haley Joel Osment’s performance speaks for itself- Cole Sear is an unbearably considerate child, in a constant state of agony but as aware of his blessings as his curse. Unable to communicate with Dr. Crowe at all, Lynn’s vivacity erases any doubt he has of abuse at her hands.
I recommend The Sixth Sense if you’re one of those two people who haven’t seen it: it’s literally the only good M. Night Shyamalan movie. Nearly twenty years later, it has depreciated only in tonal expectations, but it may be better to consume it now, lest the wine become vinegar after all.