This is one of the rarest of movie treats, a thinking person’s thriller that is genuinely haunting. You’re lucky if you see a movie that you are still thinking about by the time you reach your car; this one you may find yourself thinking about for days. Its ultimate conclusion is stunning but, in retrospect, inevitable.
Parents should not be misled by the PG-13 rating. This movie is in some ways far scarier than the R-rated “The Blair Witch Project.” Parents should be cautious about allowing children under high school age to attend, and should be prepared to talk to kids about the movie, because even teens may find it upsetting.
Bruce Willis plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a gifted therapist who specializes in children. The night he receives an award for his work, a former patient breaks into his house and shoots Dr. Crowe and then himself. Months later, Dr. Crowe is still very shaken. He feels that he cannot communicate with his wife. He is treating just one patient, a boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who reminds him of the patient he believes he failed. Malcolm gradually wins Cole’s trust, and Cole confides that he sees “dead people.” At first, Malcolm thinks this is a symptom of deep psychological disturbance, but then he comes to believe that Cole really does see the spirits of people who have died and he must find a way to make that experience less terrifying for him.
Osment is truly sensational, one of the finest performances ever given by a child. Willis complements him perfectly, and the interaction between the two of them is deeply touching. This movie has some thoughtful and meaningful views on life and death that some viewers may find comforting, and others may find sad or disturbing. The ghosts that Cole sees are of people who died violently and they are gruesome, even shockingly so, in appearance. Some are children, one killed by her own mother. Parents whose children see this movie should talk with them about their views on the afterlife and on the importance of telling those we love what is in our hearts while we can.
Video tip: Teens who like this movie will also like “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” a romantic and highly satisfying story of a young woman trying to cope with the death of her lover.