Classic Review: The Sixth Sense

Stars: ★★★★

Summary: A thoughtful, philosophical horror film that’s one of the best ever made.

Review:  Of all the films nominated for Best Picture, only four have been horror films; ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Jaws’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Sixth Sense’.  What these works have in common is that they use horror as a gateway into otherwise inaccessible realms of human drama, in contrast to the low-brow horror film which promotes fear for fear’s sake.  ‘The Sixth Sense’ attempts to open the minds of the audience to the weight of human beings on their world.  Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s undeniable that the dead have a far-reaching influence on the lives of their loved ones and the places they inhabited.  The belief in ghosts is the belief that this influence is not limited to the past.  ‘The Sixth Sense’ counters the use of ghost stories for cheap scares with the conviction that true horror lies in the breakdown of communication between human beings, living and dead.

The central relationship is between Bruce Willis’ character, a child psychologist named Malcolm, and Haley Joel Osment’s character, a profoundly disturbed little boy named Cole.  All ghost stories are fundamentally about the collision between past and future.  Malcolm’s tragic past entangles him, and it creates a rift between him and Cole, whose ability to lucidly experience the supernatural both empowers and cripples him.

Cole’s subverted wide-eyed wonder is the fountainhead of the film’s horror and plays in a very Spielbergian manner.  It’s a remarkably simple premise and a testament to the proper use of ideas.  Too many films lack a powerful idea at the center and thus attempt to patch up their flaws with a thousand weak concepts.  Shyamalan, whatever his flaws, has steadfast faith in his simplest ideas, which is more than most filmmakers can show.  It’s that faith that has a hypnotic effect on the audience and makes cinema work.  ‘The Sixth Sense’ is slow, measured, and thoughtful, letting suspense build and the characters breathe and feel real.

It’s common in the postmodern world to deny the supernatural, but the belief in ghosts, true or not, says something profound about what people think of each other.  Ghosts are often seen as invaders, intruding on everyday life with the whispers of an unresolved past.  They’re scary because they’re people like us.  Perhaps in today’s world, we no longer believe in ghosts for the same reason we find it difficult to speak to our neighbors.  We want insulation.  Jean Paul Satre believed that hell was other people, and it’s a prevailing idea; hauntings suggest that we live in a very crowded hell.

‘The Sixth Sense’ is one of the best horror films ever made.  It’s paradoxically mature and child-like, which is the condition we’ll need to embrace if we want to start believing in ghosts again.

Classic Review: Ghostbusters

Stars:  **** out of 4

Summary:  Hilarious, scary, accessible fun.

Ghostbusters!

Pictured: Who you are going to call, minus one.

Review: Oh my God, this is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen in my life!  Okay, maybe not, but it’s definitely up there.  This is what we call a “comedy”, ladies and gents, which I make a point of pointing out since we seem to have forgotten what exactly that is.  You see, a long time ago people went to movies to experience the phenomenon dubbed “laughter” typically accompanied by “fun” and an overall sense of narrative satisfaction — and sometimes they even brought the kids!  Okay, maybe I’m going over the top, but the point is they don’t make movies like this anymore.  ‘Ghostbusters’ is like a flash in the pan.  There’s only a few comedies I can put on its level, all of which shall be reviewed!

I’m not going to tell you the story, darn it! If you don’t know it, shame on you! Go see this movie now!

This movie works because it actually doesn’t try to wring out as many jokes from its premise as it can, which is a common mistake for films of its type.  Instead, it relies almost wholly on creating fun characters with great chemistry who naturally produce comedy.  It’s like magic!  And, crucial too is the application of real suspense and nightmarish special effects.  This isn’t a total farce, this is a credible fantasy film.  If I don’t think some of the ghosts are scary, then I can’t laugh at them either.  It’s a paradox.

What ‘Ghostbusters’ represents to me is the perfect balance of horror and comedy.  I don’t mean slasher or zombie horror, I mean like ‘Poltergeist’ horror.  There are plenty of films that mix the two, to be sure, but none so pure a balance as ‘Ghostbusters’.  I least that I’ve seen.  Feel free to suggest a rival.  Anywho, ‘Ghostbusters’ was a big part of my childhood and was kind of the gateway drug into darker, scarier movies that I couldn’t stomach before — when I was 9, I mean.  I saw ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ before ‘Ghostbusters’, but it scared the mellow yellow out of me, and seeing a film both fun and freaky like GB opened my eyes to the awesomeness of Indy.  My life was fun that way.

This is also a movie that helped form my opinion of the horror genre in general.  I’ve mostly been opposed to it until recently.  I don’t like many horror movies.  I tend to find them unentertaining at best and sickening and gutwrenching at worst, the latter of which, actually, many of them aim for.  I prefer the concept of a film that uses eerie, otherworldly imagery to help us deal with childhood phobias and confront evil in our adult lives.  A great scary picture can have the greatest potential as a morality play or message movie.  There’s something about the nature of it that can make it seem less anvilicious.

‘Ghostbusters’ is the definitive family action/horror/comedy film.  I like it.