"I see dead people"
Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is an award winning child psychologist who receives an unwanted late night visit from an ex-patient he never cured. The patient shoots him, then kills himself. Flash forward several months: Malcolm is having a hard time adjusting to the world around him. He tries to help himself by helping a boy with the same problem as his assailant: he sees dead people.
Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is haunted by the dead, who seem to want something from him. He sees dead people everywhere, even hanging in the hallways of his school. His mother Lynn (Toni Collette) is just barely coping with the pressure. She's a single mom trying to deal with a troubled kid, trying to make ends meet and trying to fit in with other parents who look down on her and her strange son.
Some people are so used to seeing Willis play cartoony characters in cartoony movies they forget he can really act. He does a very good job, but his performance is upstaged by Osment. This is not a cute-kid-jumping-on-the-bed part, but something that required performing a wide range of deep seated emotions, and Osment does a remarkable job. He deserved his Oscar nomination.
The film unfolds slowly, carefully, sucking you in with each scene. It is Hitchcock, not Craven. Things flit at the edge of your vision instead of slapping you in the face. There isn't much gore, which makes it more shocking when you're hit with it. And the twist at the end makes perfect sense, even though you never suspected it. (The premise has been done at least a thousand times before, and you still never see it coming.) This isn't a gore fest that you'll be laughing about, but a genuinely eerie film that will creep you out and have you looking sideways at strangers as you walk down the street.
It's not a perfect film - the references to cold caused by ghosts could have been more subtle, and the use of red as a focus for everything was a bit too obvious. But those are trivial concerns. The clever story, the outstanding performances of Willis, Osment and Collette, and the carefully crafted mood of the film make it must-see movie. It was both written and directed by M. Night Shyamain, a director no one has paid much attention to before. Between Shyamain, Osment, and Colette this just might be a breakthrough film, one of those movies you look back on as marking the beginning of several outstanding careers. Even if it isn't, it's a damn good movie.
© 2000 Dave Hitt
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