I’d like to say that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is a stunning new voice and talent working in Hollywood today. Unfortunately, that pronouncement will have to wait for at least one more film. It doesn’t matter how clever your story, your actors, or your photography is, you can’t pace the flick slower than an ice-drift if you won’t allow us to connect to the main character.
Despite what you might expect, the main character does not belong to Bruce Willis. He is who we first meet and the guide to the story. As hot-shot child psychologist Malcolm Crowe, he begins by celebrating an award from the city of Philadelphia with his wife, Anna (Olivia Williams). The party’s over when he’s ambushed by an old patient he couldn’t help, who first shoots Malcolm and then himself.
Months later, chastened, Dr. Crowe finds a patient in eight-year-old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) who exhibits identical symptoms to his great failure. Malcolm is determined to succeed this time, but he may not be ready for the real problem: not inner demons, ghosts (or IS IT?). A whole lot of new-agey redemption ensues.
If you’re expecting an action film or a horror film, you will probably be disappointed. If you’re expecting a film that totally makes sense, you’re going to be disappointed. There’s a major plot twist near the end that explains many of the plot holes and inconsistencies, but definitely not all of them. The scene where Dr. Crowe is convinced of the existence of ghosts is ludicrous and none too thought out. Making it worse is either the director or the producers, but definitely composer of the score James Newton Howard. A score is supposed to accentuate the action, not drown out scenes of dialogue and other important sound. It’s not there just to fill up space. There’s also the discovery of an important videotape whose contents look unbelievably staged.
The performances are all good to great, particularly Osment and Toni Collette as his mother. As Cole Sear is the real focus of the movie, Shyamalan should have let the audience see his perspective at times other than when he scared out of his mind.
In twenty years, this will be a good candidate for a remake. It came out of the oven a little too soon this time. Shyamalan needed to figure out what kind of film he was making and what was the focus. As it stands, it’s about half of a horror film. Horror films, though, generally don’t come with a moral in giant red letters other than “don’t go in the basement.” If I wanted a big morality play that raised more questions and concerns than it answered, well, I’d go to church.