So I just got done watching the Sixth Sense for the first time since it was in theaters... And I will give M Night Shyamalan this: in some ways he's a good director. A lot of the shots were really well framed and he pulled an incredible performance out of Haley Joel Osment as a young kid who is haunted by ghosts.
But holy Christ, the man is a terrible writer. The first half of the movie mostly focuses on Bruce Willis' child psychiatrist character, which is a mistake because he is emotionally remote and barely active in driving the plot forward; he spends his time trying to earn Osment's trust so he can help him through his trauma but that sort of trust-building is time consuming and isn't exactly edge-of-your-seat exciting. Willis' chilliness and inactivty make that part of the movie feel glacial.
Then at the fifty minute mark we get the classic "I see dead people" line... Then all of a sudden we switch to seeing the world through Haley Joel Osment's eyes, and it's ghost-a-palooza. We get ghosts with nooses around their necks. We get puking ghosts. We get burned ghosts and ghosts with the back of their heads blown off. It goes from moody drama to dumb spook show instantly. I'm not mad at the bait and switch, I'm just mad that it took so long for the movie to come clean about what it really is. It honestly did not have to be that dull for that long.
Also: the movie's ending is total bullshit. (At this point I'm just going to assume that you know the big twist... That Bruce Willis. Was. A. Ghost. This. Whole. Time.) Once Willis understands that he's dead he surmises that the reason why he couldn't move on to the afterlife was because he "had to feel like he'd helped someone"... And then he also realizes that he's helped Osment... So he's free to go. All of which makes for a convenient ending for a ghost story, but unfortunately, that is touchy feely bullshit that makes no sense in context.
Look: real therapy is a never-ending process of self-improvement, so if Willis is really going to help Osment then he can't just snap his fingers and disappears at the sign of the first breakthrough. And even if he could has he really hit that first breakthrough? Willis feels like he's been successful for two reasons: one, he finally convinced Osment to open up to his mom about how he's haunted by the undead, and two, he gets the traumatized kid to come out of his shell a little bit and act in a school paly.
But... the dead still going to taunt that kid, so he hasn't really addressed the underlying problem that was stressing Osment out. Also: isn't his mom going to be more worried about him after that admission, not less? Wouldn't you be more freaked out AFTER you found out that your kid was constantly being harranged by (generally malicious) undead forces? And are the other kids actually going to accept him just because they did one play together? What's going to happen when puberty hits and this kid is the same old weirdo but now he's got boners? The Sixth Sense's script tries to act as if it is giving us a happy ending when in fact everything is status quo if not worse.
But aside from the big stuff like the fact that script focuses on the wrong character and is paced terribly and is too pretentious... Well, it is poorly written on a micro-level, too. For example: the opening scene with Bruce Willis and his wife is full of awkward exposition that's setting up that he's a child psychiatrist - exposition which is totally unnecessary because in a few scenes we're going to see his first meeting with Osment, where he's going to go through it all again because of course he would have to explain to that random kid why he's talking to him. There are quite a few scenes like that which don't work on their own, nevermind the fact that the whole thing doesn't ever cohere into a streamlined whole.
The Sixth Sense could easily have been a good television show - the set up about the well-meaning psychologist and the traumatized kid is solid, and the big twist would have made a great season one cliffhanger. But if it was a television show then it would probably have been much more of a genre piece, one that regularly goosed you with ghostly scares, just because that's how TV works. I can see myself watching that and liking it.
But as a two hour movie? Get the fuck outta here.
Winner: The Cat