Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Film Reviews: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Fig. 1: The Sixth Sense poster.
M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) cannot truly be entirely placed under the horror or thriller genres. "The Sixth Sense isn’t a bloodfest or a whodunnit thriller: some may make the case it isn’t even a horror movie. But the quiet dialogue, the doe-eyed Osment and the sporadic yelp of violins create a tangible sense of dread that makes watching it an overwhelmingly freaky experience." (Cain, 2014). The story, while frightening and incredibly morbid in places, has a touch of sweetness that makes it enjoyable and touching to even those who don't particularly value horror films. Haley Joel Osment's acting as Cole Sear, a young boy who sees ghosts, is heart wrenching and believable, his emotional performance fueling the film. "He has to carry the heart of the movie as well as distract us from paying too much attention to Willis', well, deadness. Especially in the moments of supposed peril (the boy is, in fact, never in serious jeopardy) which he faces alone, the young actor handles the fear and vulnerability of his predicament with an emotional force."  (Nathan, 2000).

Fig. 2: Vincent Grey.
The film follows Bruce Willis' character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist in Philadelphia who has recently been honored for his work. During the short introduction to the character, his wife Anna says she believes Malcolm has a gift for working with children, and the audience is lead to believe he's had a very successful career. When the two retire to their bedroom, they notice someone has broken in, and discover a young man in the bathroom whom Malcolm identifies as Vincent Grey (fig. 2), an ex patient of his. Vincent accuses Malcolm of failing him, saying to Anna "Do you know why you're afraid when you're alone? I do. I do." (The Sixth Sense, 1999). After Malcolm offers to help him, Vincent rejects his help and shoots Malcolm in the stomach, before shooting himself in the head. The film cuts to what appears to be some months later, Malcolm is recovered and back at work, this time with Cole Sear, a nine-year-old boy with similarities to Vincent Grey. Malcolm believes if he can help Cole, it will be as though he helped Vincent.

Fig. 3: Malcolm talks to Cole about what he sees.
What's interesting about Cole and Malcolm's relationship, is that by the end, the audience realises that Cole always knew Malcolm was a ghost. When Malcolm first visits Cole in his home, Cole tells him "you're nice, but you can't help me.(The Sixth Sense, 1999). Cole saying, "you're nice" most likely refers to all his previous experiences with ghosts being negative, while Malcolm is kind to him from the beginning. Cole is also visibly wary of Malcolm, not wanting to get too close to him until he believes Malcolm definitely won't hurt him. At the end of the film, Cole knows he won't see the doctor again. Malcolm believes this is because his work with Cole has been successful, and he must now move on to the next patient. But Cole knows Malcolm no longer has unfinished business, and tells him how to talk to his wife, knowing this will help him move on. "There are fairly involved dialogue passages between Willis and Osment that require good timing, reactions and the ability to listen. Osment is more than equal to them. And although the tendency is to notice how good he is, not every adult actor can play heavy dramatic scenes with a kid and not seem to condescend (or, even worse, to be subtly coaching and leading him). Willis can. Those scenes give the movie its weight and make it as convincing as, under the circumstances, it can possibly be." (Ebert, 1999).

Fig. 4: Cole's breath is visible as the temperature drops.
The film very much makes the audience feel what Cole is feeling. The ghosts seem terrifying for most of the film, with some of them behaving aggressively or simply being frightening in appearance. As the film goes on, and Cole realises he can help the ghosts move on, he becomes less scared, and the ghosts are in turn less frightening. The audience knows when the ghosts are going to appear, as it is often preempted by a character commenting on it being cold, and their breath being visible when they exhale. This makes the beginning of the film somewhat more unnerving, as Anna Crowe comments on the temperature dropping, and her breath is visible when she enters the cellar, suggesting something entered the house with Vincent Grey, possibly something that prompted him to shoot Malcolm, and then himself.

The ending comes as a big shock to those who are not aware Malcolm is dead, as M. Night Shyamalan has clearly put a lot of effort into making sure it's not easy to detect. Anna Crowe appears to be upset with her husband for being distant and spending all his time working. It's not until the end that the audience realises she is mourning her late husband, and struggling to move on. It also becomes very obvious that no characters apart from Cole acknowledge Malcolm's presence. He walks around Cole's school, and even walks into a house during a wake without anyone seeming to question him being there. Cole also never mentions Malcolm to anyone else, despite the audience being lead to believe Malcolm must know Cole's mother, as the two of them sit together in Cole's home as they wait for him to return from school.

Fig. 5: Wearing red to a funeral.
The colour red appears frequently in the film. Anna Crowe regularly wears red after Malcolm's death, the tent Cole has made to protect himself is red, and so is the balloon he follows up a spiral staircase, where he encounters a ghost that believes it's trapped in an open cupboard. Red appears to mark people and objects associated or directly connected to ghosts. When Cole attends the funeral of a young girl, she directs him towards a box containing a videotape. Cole gives the videotape to the girl's father, who upon watching it, discovers his wife was keeping their daughter ill, and subsequently killed her, by putting cleaning fluid in her food. When the father confronts the mother, she is completely dressed in red, a strange choice for a funeral. Her outfit makes her stand out in the room before she has been confronted, making it obvious that she's drawing attention to herself, trying to gain sympathy for her daughter's death.

At the end of the film, when Cole finally tells his mother his secret, she wears a red jumper instead of the black she is usually seen in. When Cole tells her he sees ghosts, she is at first skeptical, but comes to accept and believe what he is telling her. Her decision to wear red is indicative of her acceptance of Cole, but also the overall warmth of the film, and how Cole's interactions with ghosts have gone from negative to positive. 
The Sixth Sense frightens and touches people equally. It is a horror with a happy and resolved ending, that finishes with a twist that has made it famous. "There is an unnerving but emotionally satisfying maturity to The Sixth Sense that makes it so much more than a beautifully worked parlour trick. It's a ghost story about being human." (Nathan, 2000).


Figure 1: The Sixth Sense poster. (1999) [poster] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 2: Vincent Grey. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 3: Malcolm talks to Cole about what he sees. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 4: Cole's breath is visible as the temperature drops. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 5: Wearing red to a funeral. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)


Ebert, R. (1999) 'The Sixth Sense' In: 06.08.1999 [online] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Nathan, I. (2000) 'EMPIRE ESSAY: The Sixth Sense Review' In: Empire 01.01.2000 [online] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Cain, S. (2014) 'The Sixth Sense: the film that frightened me most' In: The Guardian 22.10.2014 [online] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Monday, 2 May 2016

Film Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Fig. 1: The Blair Witch Project poster.
The film that marks the beginning of the found footage genre, The Blair Witch Project (1999) captivates its audience with slowly intensifying build-up, and skilled acting that made early audiences question if the footage was real or fake. Written, directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the film follows three student filmmakers as they hike into the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland, to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. 

A handheld camera is carried around shakily by unskilled hands, often focusing on nothing at all, being used more to capture sound than image in many places; "The first few minutes are disorienting, deliberately shot with all the shakiness of raw footage from some backpacker's video diary. The actors, using their real names, swiftly establish soon-to-fray relationships" (Thomas, 2000)The characters seem real from the beginning, with their scruffy clothes and playful conversations that don't seem at all forced. They joke, argue and even break into song in a way that feels natural, and their fear and annoyance at each other match that of the audience. When Josh and Mike are angry with Heather for pretending they're not lost, the audience is angry with her too, and when Mike reveals he's disposed of the map, the audience experience the same resentment towards him. 

Fig. 2: Heather Donahue.
The character Heather, to whom the project belongs, has the most interesting role, as she is usually the holder of the smaller camera, and the subject of the larger one. When the group use the larger camera to film, Heather has clearly rehearsed her words beforehand, and has been placed in an area with good lighting and a dramatic background. It is the change in Heather behind either camera that makes her seem more real. The professional camera shows Heather the actress, who speaks calmly on a subject with a slight smile, while the handheld camera shows the real Heather, who swears, smokes, and demands control of her project by taking full responsibility of the map. Heather is almost constantly using the handheld camera, documenting everything the group does, even when Josh and Mike insist she puts the camera away during more serious situations. Josh even says to her "I see why you like this video camera so much... It's not quite reality. It's like a totally filtered reality. It's like you can pretend everything's not quite the way it is." (The Blair Witch Project, 1999) This explains why both Heather and Mike carry the cameras around at the end of the film, it's as though seeing everything through them is less scary.

The build up of fear is well executed and slow. There are no sudden jump scares to keep the audience on their toes, instead they wonder where the first jump scare will be, or when they will see the mysterious entity following the group through the woods. As the characters become more scared and stressed, so does the audience, and viewing everything through the camera makes the audience feel immersed in the events, like a silent fourth character. It is not obvious anything bad is going to happen at first; after the groups' first night in the woods, Josh casually remarks that he thinks he could hear cackling in the distance during the night, and even on the next night, when the group can hear noises all around the tent, they comment on how weird it is, but do not seem too frightened by it. 

Fig. 3: The stick figures.
When they awake to find their tent surrounded by piles of rocks, similar to those they found the day before, the group realizes they are truly not alone, but seem to believe there is other people in the woods "messing" with them, rather than anything more sinister. The first time they seem truly scared of what it might be is when they stumble upon dozens of stick figures made of twigs. The figures represent human forms, and there are so many of them the characters are still discovering more as they leave. It is some time after this that Mike says he doesn't want to find the people he believes are following them, when Heather asks what makes him think it's people, he says "Well, even if it isn't, I'm not going to play with that, either!(The Blair Witch Project, 1999). This marks the point the group truly begin to believe in what may be the Blair Witch. "It's what you don't see in The Blair Witch Project that pumps your adrenalin and, in the best Hitchcock tradition, keeps you hanging on." (Travers, 1999).

The film's ending is incredibly unnerving. Josh is missing, but Heather and Mike believe they can hear him screaming. It's worth noting at this point that Heather has reason to believe Josh is dead, as a bundle of twigs containing Josh's shirt, teeth and hair was left outside the tent. Mike has no knowledge of this, and so believes Josh must be alive and trapped. They come across a house, made more odd by the fact that they had been travelling in circles all throughout the day and have not previously seen it. Mike immediately runs in, believing he can hear Josh upstairs. He is carrying the larger camera, and shots quickly switch between the larger camera and Heather's, making the event more chaotic. 

As they ascend the stairs, there are dozens of children's hand prints along the walls. Upon reaching the attic, they find no sign of Josh, before Mike quickly runs downstairs believing he could hear Josh again. Mike goes to the basement and suddenly drops his camera.  This has great dramatic effect, slowing the chaos suddenly as the audience can only see from Heather's point of view, as she slowly makes her way down to the basement. She screams continuously, turning to see Mike stood in the corner of the basement, facing the wall. The camera is knocked from her hands, her screams turn to silence and there is a few more seconds of footage before the film ends. 

Fig. 4: The last shot of Mike.
What makes this scene terrifying goes back to the beginning of the film, when Heather, Mike and Josh go to the town of Burkittsville to interview the residents on what they know about the legend of the Blair Witch. During an interview, a man mentions that a man living in the woods murdered seven children in his house; "what he did is he took err... the kids down to the basement by twos and he made one face into the corner... and then he would kill the other one. Then when he was done with that he'd grab the other one and kill that one too... Said in court that he couldn't take the eyes on him. He could feel the eyes watching him, that's why he made one face into the corner.(The Blair Witch Project, 1999). By this point, the story of the murderer seems irrelevant, as the group has been focusing on the Blair Witch. The ending comes as a sudden hard hitting reminder of the story from the beginning, a story that was real to the residents of Burkittsville, while the Blair Witch was a myth. It is interesting that it is the true story the group chose to ignore, and instead chase something that even they seem to not really believe in themselves.

"At a time when digital techniques can show us almost anything, "The Blair Witch Project" is a reminder that what really scares us is the stuff we can't see. The noise in the dark is almost always scarier than what makes the noise in the dark. Any kid can tell you that." (Ebert, 1999).


Figure 1: The Blair Witch Project poster. (1999) [poster] At: (Accessed on: 03.05.2016)

Figure 2: Heather Donahue. (1999) From: The Blair Witch Project. Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez [Film still] United States: Haxan Films. At: (Accessed on: 03.05.2016)

Figure 3: The stick figures. (1999) From: The Blair Witch Project. Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez [Film still] United States: Haxan Films. At: (Accessed on: 03.05.2016)

Figure 4: The last shot of Mike. (1999) From: The Blair Witch Project. Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez [Film still] United States: Haxan Films. At: (Accessed on: 03.05.2016)


Ebert, R. (1999) 'The Blair Witch Project' In: 16.07.1999 [online] At: (Accessed on: 02.05.2016)

Thomas, W. (2000) 'The Blair Witch Project Review' In: Empire 01.01.2000 [online] At: (Accessed on: 02.05.2016)

Travers, P. (1999) 'The Blair Witch Project' In: Rolling Stone 30.07.1999 [online] At: (Accessed on: 02.05.2016)

The Blair Witch Project (1999) Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez [DVD] United States: Haxan Films.

CG Artists Toolkit: Character and Animation Submission