Spooktober Day 19: Double M. Night Shyamalan: The Sixth Sense & Signs

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that seeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

I would come to have a generally uncertain relationship with M. Night Shyamalan, and for good reason. When the director was on, he was on. When he wasn’t, you wondered… why? More would come that I would love, and dislike (some being a source of laugher induced joy- not the intended reaction) but I would always appreciate these two.

As a film lover, you should always witness and register talent. He has it. Sometimes he just emphasizes it more. With The Sixth Sense he mastered it into a feature length concoction of mood, an exuberance of perpetual unease and melancholy. We strive for what we want, what we have lost, and what we can feel. The Sixth Sense touches on all of that.

source: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

I saw The Sixth Sense in theaters with my mother, aunt and grandmother. A strange group for a theatrical experience such as this, and I remember vividly after how confused, yet, affected they were. No worries fam, younger Kristy would explain. I vividly recall dissecting the specifics, and recalling the signs throughout to punctuate the ultimate surprise ending, “Grandma, this was red here for a reason.” Suffice it to say it didn’t all compute, but it most certainly became clear I was paying attention. You might say, I was in school. And, like many before and after, Shyamalan tought me some things.

There are some scenes in The Sixth Sense that are honestly terrifying. When young Cole (Haley Joel Osment) sees some of the spirits, you feel the cold, the undeniable presence, and you’re invested. I remember truly feeling this as a young kid, wondering how I’d feel in these moments. Would I be brave enough to help? Or frozen in fear? Some of the reasons for these deaths/hauntings are really chilling. You feel that, no matter your age. Even know when I rewatch (and some say it doesn’t have the same effect when you know the end, it does for me) there are certain shots when a ghostly character steps into frame that spike your heartrate and make your hands clammy.

Haley Joel Osment gives one of the best child performances in a film, and with Toni Collette as his mother Lynn, and Bruce Willis as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, there to help Cole through this challenging time, you’ve got quite the star lineup.

source: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Osment‘s performance is haunting, he’s guarded and soft spoken, trauma written in his body language and conflicted eyes. So much of the film is deeply emotional, and his expressions say it all. This isn’t a passing thought, it’s a full grown feeling, wrapped around him like a suffocating sarcophagus. Nobody will ever forget the ending, or now it made them feel the first time you saw it. When the reveal comes, suddenly obvious details come screaming back, and you feel fooled. In the right sort of way. Intelligent and poignant; this is a unique kind of ghost story. The human kind.

There’s a monster outside my room, can I have a glass of water?

source: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

When Signs came out I was excited, and of course, saw it in theaters as well. It was actually one of the few times there was a snafu in the theater which is partly why I remember it as well as I do. That, and, of course, some iconic moments that still stick with me. When the alien comes into frame on a video recording from a child’s birthday party (and Joaquin Phoenix reacts in a way that’s inspired many a memes/gifs) I remember how I felt, the sudden jolt in my chest. Isn’t that why we breathe movies? For that sensation? Whether it be an emotional gasp, a whole-hearted laugh, or a frightful hair-lifting moment, it’s transcendent for a reason.

This was a different Shyamalan even if it wasn’t really. There was still plenty of the tell tale “signs”- ha. What I love about this film is that it’s like an elaborate puzzle. It isn’t just a simple sci-fi/horror story. There’s little hints and answers given before even the questions are asked. By the end, it all snaps together, making the nightmare meaningful. Which, by all accounts, makes life feel a little more hopeful.

I thought there was just the right amount of imagination, hints of horror (without always the need to show it, a common Shyamalan trait I admire) and that ever growing need to understand why something like this is happening. For Signs, it was subtle and yet terrifying. My kind of flick. All of the acting, including the wonderful kids, hit their mark, and makes Signs as much about family, and the strength found there in the most challenging of times, than about a world-wide attack.

The reason these two stand out to me (also love Unbreakable) is because of this same joint intent; they’re intimate in the way that they’re about relationships, human perseverance, while also not denying that there is an unrelenting theme of the everyday, possible, weird, that can come at any time. Be it supernatural, alien, or our own personal demons, Shamlyan gets it. And, both of these films were influential in my love and expansion of the genre.