Walled In isn’t scary enough to be memorable or original enough to leave a lasting impression, it’s just one of those drab, grey, middle of the road horror flicks that comes and goes as quickly and unceremoniously as a sudden breeze through the room. The only notable reason for it existing beyond background noise is the presence of a few cool actors. Mischa Barton headlines, and despite her teen star shtick I’ve always thought that she’s a really good, engaging actress. Supporting her are Vancouver’s own Deborah Kara Unger and Cameron Bright, who always add class to any venture. Their trio of involvement made it worthwhile for me, but the story and production overall is just a hazy blur. Barton plays an agent for a demolition company who is overseeing the removal of a particularly old building, with some freaky secrets laid into the foundation. Unger is the building’s super creepy caretaker who knows what’s up but ain’t snitching to anyone, while Bright is even less helpful as her weird son. It turns out there’s hidden tombs in the walls where the long dead victims of a mysterious killer were shut in, and even years later the murderer may still be lurking about the place, which should have put Barton in the hot seat for some potentially suspenseful scenes, but alas, it’s a sleepy slog the whole way through. The thing would have been more lively as a video game or something, anything more stimulating than the cable level lack of thrills and chills doled out here. Barton was good, as she always is, but other than her, Unger and Bright, this is just mud.
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense produces the kind of rarely attained fear that we always seek out in this genre, that creeping cold dread that has you clammy and your nerves jagged, where you know you’ll be looking over your shoulder as you walk down the dark hallway to your room later that night. That’s the best kind to me, stemming from well made, atmospheric ghost stories as opposed to all this gore-hound nonsense you see these days (can you believe they’re making another fucking Saw flick? Actually from a dollar sign perspective I can, but still). This one is a veritable haunted house of apparitions and phantasms, all witnessed by a disturbed Haley Joel Osment, who would look even more worried if he could see himself now as a twenty-something walking play-dough potato. He can see dead people, as he intensely whispers to Bruce Willis’s lonely child psychologist in the film’s now showcase moment, and not all of them like to keep their distance. Willis is traumatized from a tragedy years before involving an unstable former patient (Donnie Whalberg), and treads hesitantly with this new kid. A bond is formed, however, and with it comes the desire to help. The frequent paranormal sightings range from grisly, bemusing, shocking, tragic and often downright terrifying, especially one involving a very young, gaunt Mischa Barton invading a couch fort Osment has made to try and get some peace and quiet. The plot is carefully composed and directed by Shyamalan in a magician behind the curtain fashion, the veil gradually drawn with every beat until we’re presented with a staggering twist ending that has become legend since the film’s release back in the days before such a conclusion could be found in every fourth title on the thriller shelf of Blockbuster. Such is the power of storytelling though, and the potency of innovation to inspire others. It’s also great fun to watch the film multiple times and spot the breadcrumb trail of clues leading towards the outcome, clues that you wouldn’t have picked up on before. Along with Barton, who is terrific, there’s nice work from Toni Colette, Trevor Morgan, Kadee Strickland and Olivia Williams as well. You may know the ending even if you haven’t seen the film before, as we do after all live in the age of spoilers, snitches and online hoo-hah, but there’s more to be had than the shock of that, it’s a mesmerizing journey there with a darkly enchanted aura from start to flabbergasting finish. Remains Shyamalan’s best to this day.