I caught The Sixth Sense (1999) for the first time the other day. As I was holding my baby at the time, I couldn’t take notes as I usually do, hence this shorter than average collection of thoughts.
The Sixth Sense is of course the film that saw a relatively young M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the scene. From there, he has turned into one of the most interesting directors working today with a range of well-received thrillers sitting alongside other works considered amongst the worst ever screened in a cinema. Of course it is basically impossible to watch the film now, even as a first-timer like me, without knowing the big twist at the end. It would have been great to have seen the film without knowing it, and having that knowledge does influence every aspect of watching the film. But that simply means the film operates on a different plane than it did when breaking out in ’99. No longer is it a buzzed about film that is going to blow your mind. Now it is a well made, vaguely Hitchcockian thriller, but with bonus supernatural overtones. It is predicated on a rather stupid central premise though, which the filmmaking team does a good job of overcoming.
Bruce Willis gives an excellent performance here, perhaps the best of his career. There’s something heightened and otherworldly about what he is doing, which plays well in retrospect. Haley Joel Osmond is likewise excellent, nailing the big lines of the film and sucking you right into the ‘creepy kid’ elements of the story, which are the best parts of the film. The script is good at establishing Osmond as a troubled kid, though overall it is a little up and down. Those creepy kid bits are also enhanced because they give Shyamalan license to really show off his stylistic chops as a visual storyteller. Overall the film is a throwback in terms of both tone and look, in particular recalling The Omen (1976) for me.
Verdict: There is no denying that watching the film for the first time today, knowing full well where it is going, dilutes the experience of this story. It certainly doesn’t make it a bad film. But it reduces it from classic status to atmospheric, slickly made thriller but no more. The elements are all there. But it’s just a touch too contrived to totally cohere into awesomeness. Stubby of Reschs
A couple of weeks ago I delved into the deep dark world of late career M. Nigh Shyamalan with a live tweet of The Happening (2008). Oh my it was painful. A pain you can re-live here.
The career of M. Night Shyamalan can be easily divided into two parts, with perhaps a little grey area in between. First is his golden, early career that famously led to him being labelled the ‘next Spielberg’. This period runs up to at least Unbreakable (2000) and includes the almost universally acclaimed The Sixth Sense (1999) that was probably the critical and commercial highpoint of Shyamalan’s output. Just as stark is the period of rubbish Shyamalan, which runs from Lady in the Water (2006) to his most recent abysmal effort After Earth (2013). This period has seen Shyamalan release some of the most maligned flicks of the last decade, attracting the kind of vitriol generally reserved for the likes of Uwe Boll and Michael Bay. Signs (2002) and The Village (2004) occupy a little bit of a grey area in between the two periods with mixed opinions. What do you guys think of those two?
In any case, I have actually seen very little of Shyamalan’s work hence this little live tweet poll. This Saturday night coming around 9:30 ot 10 my time, I will be live-tweeting one of M. Night’s rather crappier efforts. Let me know in the comments below which of these three films you would like me to unleash my live-tweet on.
Lady in the Water (2006)
The Happening (2008)
The Last Airbender (2010)
Few filmmakers have undergone the highs and lows of critical reception as much as M. Night Shyamalan. Praised as a young filmmaker for films such as The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000) he has just as quickly seen his later works derided with efforts such as The Lady in the Water (2006) and The Last Airbender (2010).
Devil (2010) is very much marketed as a Shyamalan production, even though he is not on directorial duties. The idea is for a new series of works where the story will be developed by Shyamalan before being given to another director to bring to the screen. The story in this case involves five people being trapped in an elevator. Oh and one of them happens to be the devil himself. It’s an Agatha Christie setup with a horror payoff. And for me it worked pretty well. It is not game changing stuff, but I thought it was an effective enough piece of high concept genre filmmaking. The film kicks off rather atmospherically with both an onscreen quote and a voiceover about the devil taking human form and walking upon earth. These early sequences show your usual establishing shots of a city, except that the image is inverted, conveying that there is something really off-kilter going on here. This effect is really engaging, because it is a lot more difficult to look away from than the usual standard establishing shots of this ilk. In fact the whole early section of this is really slick looking and uniquely shot. There are a lot of really swooping camera movements and a lot of dynamism from the camera in general. It is all over the shop in a great way. The really original camerawork continues in the lift at close quarters as it manages to convey the increasingly erratic state of those in the elevator as the tension ramps up.
One thing that Devil definitely is not, is scary. Generally that would bring a horror film a fair way down, but strangely I still found myself really engaged. I think that perhaps it was a bit of wonder at where they were going to take this tale. How were they going to satisfyingly wrap up this tale of five folk and the devil in an elevator? And perhaps the ending actually does not even manage to do that, but going on the journey to see where it went was effective and enjoyable enough. Enhancing this is the fact that the movie is really well paced. It takes its time getting going, building back stories and mythology before plonking everyone in the lift. And builds the whole way through, ramping up the tension, slowly at first but getting faster and faster. The film is also helped by having some quite nice performances as well. Logan Marshall-Green who I know mainly from the TV show The O.C. is really good, as is Bojana Novakovic as another of the elevator inhabitants.
Another reason the film was so successful for me is because it is so easy to imagine what a fucked up situation this is. Most people have a fair fear of getting stuck in an elevator. But imagine how much that fear is multiplied if all of a sudden the lights are flickering on and off and people are getting murdered in incredibly vicious ways. I think the film balances its narrative well too. It might have gotten too intense or repetitive if the film tried to solely stay inside the elevator for the entire duration of the film. But there are welcome excursions outside the elevator car into the building’s security office and into the police investigation which make for a more engaging overall film.
Devil was a really pleasant surprise for me. Perhaps I was just in a really good mood when I watched, but I thought that the fantastic simple premise was delivered on in a really engaging, if not perfect, way. I think this is one worth checking out.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
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