A Sixth Sense wannabe for teenagers, The Invisible is a loosely adapted remake of the 2002 Swedish thriller Den Osynlige, and begins with a promising supernatural scenario: When wealthy teenager Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) is nearly beaten to death by his sullen, alienated classmate Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva) and her tough-punk friends, he’s left for dead and his disappearance draws the attention of local detectives while his widowed mother (Marcia Gay Harden) remains in a grieving state of shock. But Nick isn’t dead yet, and now his invisible spirit is roaming among the living, struggling to prevent his own death while fixed in a state of metaphysical limbo. Can he be seen and heard by some people, but not others? Even though he’s essentially a ghost, can he influence the physical world around him? Can he lead police to discover his near-dead body? Can he save Annie from the fate that awaits her? These are questions that The Invisible struggles to answer in a muddled, inconsistent screenplay that fails to play by its own rules–it’s just one unconvincing scene after another, devoid of suspense or supernatural thrills. It’s anyone’s guess why director David S. Goyer (a successful screenwriter whose credits include Blade and Batman Begins) was drawn to this weakly plotted story, which is derivative, illogical, and overly melodramatic. That may explain why The Invisible vanished after its brief theatrical release, destined for a long shelf-life on DVD. –Jeff Shannon
The Sixth Sense
”I see dead people,” whispers little Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), scared to affirm what is to him now a daily occurrence. This peaked 9-year old, already hypersensitive to begin with, is now being haunted by seemingly malevolent spirits. Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is trying to find out what’s triggering Cole’s visions, but what appears to be a psychological manifestation turns out to be frighteningly real. It might be enough to scare off a lesser man, but for Malcolm it’s personal–several months before, he was accosted and shot by an unhinged patient, who then turned the gun on himself. Since then, Malcolm has been in turmoil–he and his wife (Olivia Williams) are barely speaking, and his life has taken an aimless turn. Having failed his loved ones and himself, he’s not about to give up on Cole.
This third feature by M. Night Shyamalan sets itself up as a thriller, poised on the brink of delivering monstrous scares, but gradually evolves into more of a psychological drama with supernatural undertones. Many critics faulted the film for being mawkish and New Age-y, but no matter how you slice it, this is one mightily effective piece of filmmaking. The bare bones of the story are basic enough, but the moody atmosphere created by Shyamalan and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto made this one of the creepiest pictures of 1999, forsaking excessive gore for a sinisterly simple feeling of chilly otherworldliness. Willis is in his strong, silent type mode here, and gives the film wholly over to Osment, whose crumpled face and big eyes convey a child too wise for his years; his scenes with his mother (Toni Collette) are small, heartbreaking marvels. And even if you figure out the film’s surprise ending, it packs an amazingly emotional wallop when it comes, and will have you racing to watch the movie again with a new perspective. You may be able to shake off the sentimentality of The Sixth Sense, but its craftsmanship and atmosphere will stay with you for days. –Mark Englehart
This B movie with noble aspirations is the work of a gifted filmmaker whose storytelling falls short of his considerable stylistic flair. While addressing crises of faith in the framework of an alien-invasion thriller, M. Night Shyamalan (in his follow-up to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) favors atmospheric tension over explanatory plotting. He injects subtle humor into expertly spooky scenes, but the story suffers from too many lapses in logic. The film’s faults are greatly compensated by the performance of Mel Gibson as a widower whose own crisis of faith coincides with the appearance of mysterious crop circles in his Pennsylvania cornfield… and hundreds of UFOs around the globe. With his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) and two young children (Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin), the lapsed minister perceives this phenomenal occurrence as a series of signs and portents, while Shyamalan pursues a spookfest with War of the Worlds overtones. It’s effective to a point, but vaguely hollow at its core. –Jeff Shannon
When Unbreakable was released, Bruce Willis confirmed that the film was the first in a proposed trilogy. Viewed in that context, this is a tantalizing and audaciously low-key thriller, with a plot that twists in several intriguing and unexpected directions. Standing alone, however, this somber, deliberately paced film requires patient leaps of faith–not altogether surprising, since this is writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s daring follow-up to The Sixth Sense. While just as assured as that earlier, phenomenal hit, Unbreakable is the work of a filmmaker whose skill exceeds his maturity, its confident style serving a story that borders on juvenile. However, Shyamalan’s basic premise–that comic books are the primary conduit of modern mythology–is handled with substantial relevance.
Willis plays a Philadelphia security guard whose marriage is on the verge of failing when he becomes the sole, unscathed survivor of a devastating train wreck. When prompted by a mysterious, brittle-boned connoisseur of comic books (Samuel L. Jackson), he realizes that he’s been free of illness and injury his entire life, lending credence to Jackson’s theory that superheroes–and villains–exist in reality, and that Willis himself possesses extraordinary powers. Shyamalan presents these revelations with matter-of-fact gravity, and he draws performances (including those of Robin Wright Penn and Spencer Treat Clark, as Willis’s wife and son) that are uniformly superb. The film’s climactic revelation may strike some as ultimately silly and trivial, but if you’re on Shyamalan’s wavelength, the entire film will assume a greater degree of success and achievement. –Jeff Shannon