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M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense

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. 

-Nate Hill

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“I didn’t leave you.” The Hains Report Presents: A review of The Sixth Sense – by Josh Hains

You need not worry, I won’t spoil the ending.

I never knew what happens at the end of The Sixth Sense until either late 2005 or sometime in early 2006. I found out the ending of The Sixth Sense when I was reading an adaptation of the film that I’d found in my high school’s library when I was in my first year. I was 14, and more than a little foolish. I read the first 3 chapters of the book (perhaps a fourth, perhaps even more but I can’t recall), and was then hit with the idea that I had guessed the ending based on what I’d read. I flipped to the end of the book and read the ending, found my guess validated, then placed it back on the shelf and never looked back. Just last year I watched the film for the first time. Oddly enough, despite knowing the ending years prior, I somehow felt a sense of shock wash over me as I watched the scene unfold in front of my eyes. Watching it for a second time over this past weekend, the ending still held the same impact. Proof you can know the ending of a movie and still be surprised by it on more than one occasion.

I observed that The Sixth Sense isn’t much of a thriller it was pitched to audiences as being (not straight horror either), but rather a ghost story where good people fall prey to those who torment them from beyond the grave. The latest victim of ghosts is the young boy Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who claims one night to “see dead people”. Many believe that children are more susceptible to seeing ghostly apparitions than adults, and Cole is no exception, scribbling or screaming the ravings of ghosts he has terrifying eencounters with. I don’t know who’s more afraid, he of the ghosts, or his mother Lynn (Toni Collette) for his safety and mental well being.

Cole’s psychologist becomes Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who we first meet at the start of the film when a former patient shoots Malcolm, then himself. Malcolm seems defeated these days, tired and worn out from work and life in general. His wife Anna (Olivia Williams) doesn’t seem to notice he’s even around, barely utters a word or gives a look in his general direction. Maybe she’s having an affair. Perhaps the trauma from that night was too much to bear for her. Maybe Malcolm was never the same after.

Malcolm seems to approach Cole and his predicament with a “Sure, whatever you say kid” demeanor. It seems fair to me that Malcolm has this attitude, he probably doesn’t believe in ghosts and is just going along with whatever Cole says because he knows he needs guidance, without ever appearing condescending toward him. I doubt I’d believe the root of the issue is ghosts either, just a troubled soul in need of nurturing. Malcolm shares the same perspective, and is more than willing to help where he can. In turn, Cole helps Malcolm a little too, telling him to talk to his wife while she sleeps, because “That’s when she’ll hear you.” I don’t know who my heart bleeds for most.

Haley Joel Osment showed us 18 years ago that he was a force to be reckoned with even as a child. He wasn’t playing the typical child role where you just look cute, act silly for the camera and get your lines out with some amount of authenticity. No, here in the Sixth Sense, he actually has to act, and convincingly plays a good kid plagued by appearances of gruesomely murdered ghosts. When he’s afraid, we believe he is. When he’s sad, our hearts break. Neither he nor Willis overshadow each other, and the two have a chemistry that feels authentic and adds layers to the nature of their relationship.

Bruce Willis is a rare down to earth actor, always wearing his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t over play his hand here, he never gets wild or over the top. Again he’s down to earth, as well as honest and subtle. In my two viewings of the film, I have almost entirely forgotten at various points that the man on screen is in fact Bruce Willis, mostly because he’s not playing the typical Bruce Willis role. Gone is any sense of his star persona or real life personality. He is just Malcolm Crowe, and I believe it. Much of the best acting of Willis’ career can be found split between The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (his second collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan after this film), and oddly enough the best acting I’ve seen from him comes in big reveals toward the end of each film. In the case of Unbreakable, it’s when David Dunn silently reveals to his son that he’s the lone saviour of two kids whose parents were murdered by a local psychopath.

Here in The Sixth Sense, it’s the sequence in which Malcolm comes to truth with some harsh realities, none of which I will spoil here. I’m sure you’re aware of what happens by now, and if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know the famous ending, I implore you to give it a look, you just might love it. Willis doesn’t dip into manic theatrics or parody when the truth is uncovered (though he easily could have), he remains truthful to the performance he had been giving beforehand and to the character of Malcolm, which helps to ground the movie in a believable reality.

As for that ending itself, it’s one of the few Hollywood twist endings that works, and works well enough 18 years later to be considered one of the true great twist endings in film history. Admittedly, when I read it in that book all those years ago, I was surprised by the boldness of such an ending. It’s not very often a movie ends on such a bold note, in a way that pulls the rug out from underneath you, yet invites you to come back for another visit and see things from a newfound perspective. Maybe you’ll see dead people too.

David Twohy’s Below: A Review by Nate Hill

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David Twohy’s Below cleverly combines two genres which seem to be made for each other, yet had never met up until this film. The atmospheric ghost thriller goes on an underwater ride with the submarine film for quite the unique and eerie experience. Strange occurances happen aboard a US army submarine during a routine WWII patrol mission, starting with the rescue of several stranded British castaways from a decimated ship, including Olivia Williams and Dexter Fletcher. The Captain (Bruce Greenwood) attempts to keep his crew calm, but apparantly it’s bad luck to have a woman onboard and soon uneasiness creeps in amongst them. There’s a mystery about their quarters as well, involving the supernatural, and pretty soon crewmembers are seeing, hearing and reporting eerie stuff, which adds to the tension. The crew is rounded out by an eclectic bunch of actors including Nick Chinlund, Holt McCallany, Matthew Davis, Christopher Fairbank, and Zach Galifianakis as a guy named Weird Wally who really lives up to the name. There’s some spooky moments, high drama between the cast which they pull off well, and a twist ending that explains the ghostly elements. Underrated stuff.

Joe Wright’s Hanna: A review by Nate Hill

Joe Wright’s Hanna started as a Vancouver Film School script, funded through grants that would make it the catalyst for the positively unique, incendiary action fairy tale that it is today. It’s crowd pleasing without any superficiality, straight to the point without being over serious, and is made with a slick, vibrant aesthetic that will have your pulse dancing a jig in time with the thumping score by The Chemical Brothers. I held off on seeing this one for years after its initial release, jaded by the prospect of another ‘killer genetically altered female assassin’ flick. One night I finally caved and took a peek on Netflix. I then kicked myself hard for not taking notice sooner, purely on the notion that I wouldn’t dig it based on its formula. I suppose I learnt a little ‘book by its cover’ lesson there, as I was completely enamoured with the film and have seen it at least ten times since then. The tired ingredients of any old formula can be whipped up into a tantalizing new recipe, providing all those involved have the commitment and passion. The filmmakers of Hanna go for broke with one of the best thrillers in years. Saoirse Ronan is an explosive, feral waif as the titular hero, raised in isolation by her badass ex CIA father Erik Heller (underrated Aussie Eric Bana nails the German accent to a T). They reside in the frozen tundras of Lapland, where Erik trains her in the ways of a warrior, instilling survivalism in both physical and intellectual measures, preparing her for their inevitable separation. An enemy from Erik’s past surfaces in the form of evil CIA witch Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett practically breathes fire with a naughty southern accent and a red hairdo that looks acidic to the touch), and both Hanna and him are forced to run, separated from each other. She escapes from a remote facility and begins her journey across Europe, befriended by a lovable squabbling family of travellers, igniting a yearning for companionship in her that Ronan expertly shows the camera. Wiegler enlists the slimy help of a euro trash club owner who moonlights as some sort of freelance über villain (Tom Hollander almost walks away with the movie as the psychopathic, bleached blonde pervo Deutsch-bag) who relentlessly pursues Hanna along with his neo nazi skinhead henchman. The thing about this film is that it’s all been done before, but they find a way to make it fresh, exciting and strike chords which simply haven’t been hit in this sub genre before, providing a film experience that really sticks. Ronan has never been more virile and effective, also proving a mastery of the German accent and embodying Hanna with intense physicality that’s achingly punctuated by a gradual awakening as a person as well. Impressive balance is shown in her character arc, through writing and stunt work alike. This is the first movie to be scored by The Chemical Brothers, and damn I hope we get more. They belt out a technicolor rhapsody of electric music that flows beautifully with the story, hitting every beat, ramping up suspense when needed, being surprisingly weird at times and kicking around your head long after the credits roll. The actors are all easy listening with the dialogue, never feeling forced or making us doubt for a minute that these aren’t real people engaged in genuine interaction. The film neither drags nor rushes, arriving at its often grisly, sometimes touching and always entertaining conclusions exactly when it needs to. It shows uncanny intuition with its pacing, an absence of the need to show off with unnecessary fights or effects which don’t serve the story, and above all a keen desire to entertain us. Terrific stuff.