Tue, 01 Oct 2002
My negative reaction to The Sixth Sense probably derives in part from my feeling that it has been wildly overpraised. I know it’s not fair to think less of a movie because other people think too much of it, but I’m afraid it’s a prejudice I succumb to from time to time – I still haven’t been able to watch Braveheart in its entirety, because I’m so irritated by the fact it won that Best Picture Oscar when it’s clear to me, from the handful of scenes I’ve seen, that it is ham-fistedly directed and has all the moral complexity of a Hardy Boys novel. I have the same prejudice against Gladiator and Titanic – which I have to admit, notwithstanding their undeserved Oscars, are okay movies – and A Beautiful Mind – which I will consider watching only if Ron Howard personally apologises to me for making The Grinch.
Perhaps, to get back to Sixth Sense and Shyamalan, my objection to his movies is that he never quite makes the movie I want him to make. Sixth Sense has a terrific, scary-as-all-hell ending which is neutered by the drippy stuff about Bruce Willis having completed his business on earth and now he’s free to move on into the light, or whatever – would’ve been a better, spookier movie if Shyamalan hadn’t felt the need to drop that note of religious reassurance in there. Unbreakable I kept expecting to explode from sombre contemplation into full-on comic-book muscularity, complete with death rays and a guy in tights flying through the air – could’ve been the greatest superhero movie ever made, like a brainy version of the original Superman – but instead it stayed sombre and contemplative and sort of fizzled out.
As for Signs, which I still haven’t seen, you said something in your email to the effect that “you can’t fault a guy for believing in a higher power and wanting to convey that belief in film”. Well, no, I can’t fault him for his beliefs – but I can fault him for shoehorning a cameo by God Almighty into what sounds like a perfectly entertaining alien invasion flick. You compared Shyamalan to Hitchcock, but Hitchcock never felt the need to uplift his audiences with hokey spirituality – look at the bleak endings of Vertigo or The Birds or, by contrast, the upbeat final scene of Rear Window – any of his endings, really – what Hitchcock’s endings have in common is that they leave the audience to work out the moral of the story for themselves. One can’t say for certain, but I suspect if Hitchcock had made Sixth Sense, it would’ve ended with a shot of Bruce Willis’ face as he realised that he was a ghost – and it would’ve been the scariest fucking movie ever.