‘I see dead people’ is the powerful statement taken from the 1999 psychological horror film ‘The Sixth Sense’ directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan. The film was classified as a thriller to attract a wider range of viewers but the real characterisation of the film is a ‘psychological horror’ due to its supernatural and paranormal aspects. The first ten minutes of the film are crucial in introducing the films’ key themes and creating tension. There are many themes in the film including communication, relationships and conflict.
Shyamalan uses many techniques to create dramatic tension throughout the film such as camera angles, mis-en-scene and symbolism. Many of the symbols used depict several meanings which are used to introduce the themes which are all intertwined into the film. From the very start of the film the creation of dramatic tension is quite evident. Viewers are first welcomed into the film with the opening credits. The opening credits ‘set the tone’ for the film and bring forward a recognition of the film’s genre.
A non-diegetic soundtrack is placed over the opening credits. The music starts off quietly and subtly and as the words fade in and out the sound gets increasingly louder (also known as a ‘crescendo’), a good technique used to create dramatic tension; when the words ‘Sixth Sense’ appear on the screen the music reaches its climax. You could describe the sounds as ghostly, eerie and insinuating a film about supernatural forces. The opening credits are a pale white writing put on top of a pitch black background.
The words fade in and out, only allowing the viewer to read the writing for approximately four to six seconds before it quickly fades out. The fading in and out of the words give a very clear indication to the viewers that it is a film of supernatural context. The fading in and out could represent the ghosts moving in and out of the two worlds, the real world and the supernatural world which define the dichotomy of this film. When the music reaches its climax, the words ‘Sixth Sense’ come on the screen.
A fast ripple moves across the words, possibly representing a wind or a chill which is often attributed to a ghostly presence. This gives off an automatic thought that something unexpected might happen. The names of most of the characters are symbolic, relating to things that are dark and may reflect to the personality of the person. Dr. Malcolm Crowe’s last name is Crowe, similar spelling to crow. A crow is a symbol of evil, dark and dead things and in the end it’s Malcolm Crowe that ends up dead.
Cole’s name is symbolic because of Cole which is similar to cold. A cold energy is what occurs when ghosts get angry; Sear his last name is symbolic because it is like the word seer which is a person that is a visionary or someone that can see things that others can’t, like Cole. Vincent’s name is symbolic because his name is the same as the famous Vincent Van Gogh, a painter that was insane and ended up shooting himself like Vincent Grey; Vincent Van Gogh was a troubled genius , words that can be used to describe Vincent Grey.
The surname Grey is also symbolic because grey is the colour of being in between, it’s the colour of neither black or white, being in the middle of two worlds just as Vincent Grey was. The first scene consists of a nine second close-up shot of a light bulb; during those nine seconds the object starts of as a pitch dark area and then slowly progresses into a bright light that starts to light up the room. This nine second scene of just a light bulb builds tension as viewers want to know what happens next, especially as the restricted view of the surroundings creates curiosity and draw attention to the bulb.
Dramatic tensions is definitely created here as the only sound heard is the one of the light bulb heating up. The slow speed that the light turns on could imply a feeling of fear and a need for safety but the inability to reach it. There is a small amount of condensation on the light bulb of which indicates that the basement was suddenly met with coldness, we later on in the film find out that when there is a supernatural presence the air becomes cold.
As the light turns on, its background (surroundings) become more illuminated and you are able to see some of the content of the basement; this is where the work of the dramatic tension comes in as viewers are eager to know what they will be greeted with when the light is at its full potential and all can be seen. The first protagonist that the audience is introduced to is Anna Crowe the wife of Dr. Malcolm Crowe. The next scene shows Anna descending into the basement. The scene begins with a long shot of Anna from behind the wine rack.
She stops and shivers at the bottom of the basement stairs showing she is feeling the cold of the secluded location. Her body language shows that she is very conscious of her new surroundings and a slight element of fear is present; while she is walking towards the wine rack the long shot of the camera view is as if someone is watching her. You can see her feeling very reluctant to be in a place in her own house, a foreboding sense. Anna moves towards the wine rack, and as she walks an echo of her footstep is heard creating a suspense filled atmosphere.
When Anna reaches the wine rack, she looks up and down the rack looking for the correct wine bottle and the camera follows her eye movements with a close-up shot, once again insinuating that she is being watched by a ‘ghostly’ presence behind the wine rack. She grabs the wine and departs the basement quickly. Following Anna’s interaction with the basement, viewers are then introduced to the sitting room. In the sitting room there is a complete change of mood; from suspense and tension to ta relieving and calm atmosphere, can be described as a step from darkness into light giving a sense of reassurance of safety.
The basement scene held a lot of tension, then the sitting room scene took away all that tension giving the viewers mixed perceptions of what the film is about. The use of the colour red is introduced in this scene. Red is used symbolically in this film for the things in the normal world that have been tainted by the supernatural world. Anna’s lipstick is red, the di?? cor of the room is read and later on the colour red is seen quite frequently. In the Living room scene, Anna and Malcolm can be seen wearing extra clothes and slightly shivering. In a room so supposedly bright and warm why is there a cold air?
This is another piece of evidence to add to the speculation of ghostly interference. In the sitting room Anna and Malcolm Crowe are seen celebrating Malcolm’s award, embracing each other and drinking wine. The celebration continues between Malcolm and Anna Crowe as they clumsily climb up the stairs. The camera shots used during this scene, such as behind the stairs and on the ceiling indicate that someone could be watching them or that there is an intruder in the house; the camera follows them as they walk, trying to represent the eyes of an intruder.
When they go upstairs into the bedroom Anna notices that there is shattered glass on the floor, an unhooked phone, slightly ajar window and scattered documents; the tension starts to build again. The camera suddenly then zooms in on the couple, this also contributes to building tension as the emotions on their face are seen more clearly emphasising on the shock they are feeling. Anna looks at the items on the floor, the camera hovers over to the unhooked phone that was making a beeping sound almost a replica of a heartbeat or even a hospital heart monitor, another link to life and death.
The phone off the hook could represent broken communications as during this scene the broken/ lack of communication between Vincent Grey and Malcolm Crowe is being confronted. A shadow runs across the scene and Anna Crowe screams. The camera then leaves Malcolm’s eye view and onto the en-suite bathroom where the ‘intruder’ is standing. Naked and shivering the intruder Vincent is stood at the doorway of the bathroom. Malcolm believed that Vincent was genuinely a burglar or a drug addict; then Vincent recites his past diagnosis from when he was Malcolm’s patient.
Malcolm tries to console Vincent but he is very distressed and hysterical and shouts ‘you failed me’. The nakedness of Vincent could show that Vincent has had enough; he displayed signs of a destroyed relationship (another key theme) and now was his time to be free by letting it all out. Vincent’s state obviously showed he had mental issues, creating more fear to the audience as his actions are unpredictable. Tensions is very strong at this current moment as the audience begin to wonder what Vincent is capable of and will Malcolm be able to resolve the issue?
Malcolm is adamant that he remembers Vincent, but it’s too late. Vincent turns around and pulls outs a gun, and shoots Malcolm. It was very unexpected as we didn’t know where the gun came from. Vincent then puts the gun to his head and the camera moves and we hear a bang. Vincent Grey had killed himself. The next scene the audience see is Malcolm Crowe 1 year later, so the viewers are then automatically reassured as they thought Malcolm was shot dead in the previous scene. All the held in tension has been released.
The changing of the cameras to the hand held camera in this scene was very effective, as they have easier movements and it gives the camera man more freedom to move around and catch extra and hidden details that a big stage camera couldn’t see. We are also put into Malcolm’s shoes as we can see the room from Malcolm’s eyes. ‘The Sixth Sense’ uses many techniques that create dramatic tension in the film; these techniques are bought to recognition in the first ten minutes of the movie.
They tell the viewers that director M. Night Shyamalan purposely did this to let them know that the element of creating dramatic tension is an important one. The most effective technique was the restricted information given. The strategy involved withholding all important information for example, where is the film set? What year are they in? Who is Malcolm Crowe? And how did he become so successful? The key themes which were all initiated in the first ten minutes added atmosphere and dramatic tension to the film.
He also uses foreshadowing and motif to help you understand the movie and see that it is more than what you first perceive. The film kind of represents the light bulb from the beginning. Starting off in the dark we gradually grow into the light as the film progresses giving off more information. Especially the major shock when we find out in the end that Malcolm Crowe was actually shot dead in the beginning. Overall, ‘The Sixth Sense’ was a well thought of film which used several film techniques which made it one of the most famous horror movies ever made.