Buena Vista Pictures
The success of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit is difficult to gauge. The movie had one of his worst openings yet ($26m), topping only The Lady in the Water and his early feature Wide Awake, but it also cost just $5m, a tiny fraction of his usual budget, and so it is technically a hit, profit-wise (as Jack predicted last year, it’s just what he needed). That combined with the fact that the new found-footage feature earned Shyamalan his best reviews in more than a decade means he’s not in any kind of desperate position. The sort that normally has us suggesting it’s time for the guy to finally make that Unbreakable sequel.
Still, this only shows that he can do well enough with little money. If he ever wants to be as big a deal as he once was and maybe shoot something that isn’t supposed to look like it was filmed by children, a sequel to one of his greater successes could be good idea. Only Unbreakable isn’t the one to revisit. Instead, if Shyamalan were to give fans a follow-up to one of his movies, he should return to his breakthrough, The Sixth Sense. The 1999 Best Picture nominee is far more popular with general audiences, so it’s surprising that it’s never talked about for a sequel, like Unbreakable often is.
Both movies have a perfectly complete narrative without need for the story to be continued. Of course, Unbreakable is a superhero movie, and it’s hard for fans to let one of those be a one-shot. The same has always been the case for The Incredibles, which regularly shares real estate with Unbreakable on lists of the best of the superhero genre. The Incredibles 2 has been requested even by those who complain about Pixar’s general fall back on sequels of late (that one is now finally being made). Similarly, Unbreakable is called for, and that interest is encouraged by Shyamalan, in spite of his general comments about how he isn’t interested in doing sequels. The Sixth Sense doesn’t have the same exception.
But it could make a return at just the right time for non-horror movies involving ghosts. We’re about to see the resurrections of Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice and Scooby-Doo on the big screen, and while Shyamalan’s take on paranormal apparitions isn’t quite of the same ilk, going for more dramatic thrills than amusement, that’s just a matter of tone. In terms of its premise, The Sixth Sense actually has a good deal in common with those movies, as well as the Beetlejuice animated series pairing up the “ghost with the most” and a young member of the living. No, I’m not suggesting The Sixth Sense 2 be set in the afterlife like the cartoon, though I’m open to anything here.
Maybe it’s because I saw the movie with the ending already spoiled for me, but I tend to focus on a part of The Sixth Sense that’s more interesting than the fact that Bruce Willis’s character is dead the whole time. That’d be the sequence where Willis and Haley Joel Osment go to the funeral of a little girl (Mischa Barton) and help her to reveal that she was poisoned to death by her mother. Together, the duo are like a kind of Ghostbusters, or more like ghost avengers, but eliminators of haunting spirits just the same. I’ve always wanted more of that.
Perhaps the procedural nature of that focus would make a better TV series than sequel. It could recast the characters, retcon the ending of the movie so Willis’s character never moved on into the afterlife (though we technically don’t see him walk off into a white light or anything indicating this happened for sure) and have it pick up immediately as the ghost-dad-substitute and the boy solve murders with help of the murdered. A TV show can also easily alter the tone so it’s not so slow and serious and sad. That isn’t to say it ought to be filled with comedy, just maybe not have leads who look like they’re on the verge of weeping all the time.
The case for a movie rather than a TV series, then, may be all about the original guys who played those leads. As much as the premise and the twist, what makes The Sixth Sense such a winning feature is the bond between Willis and Osment (Toni Collette is also pretty terrific). Plus, if there’s been any interest of late for a sequel, it’s perhaps centered on the question of what’s going on with Osment’s character, Cole, after all these years of being able to see dead people (PopSugar posed the question to Shyamalan directly during Comic-Con this summer). Did it get less scary as he grew up? Has he turned the gift/curse into a career?
Osment is back on the big screen following a long absence (he was studying experimental theatre at NYU), now an adult starring in Kevin Smith films, including the upcoming Yoga Hosers, and the Entourage movie (one of a handful not in a cameo appearance) and he could use something more substantial to make us feel better about him being an Oscar-nominated actor. He reportedly said back in 2001 that he wasn’t interested in reprising the role and that a sequel was “completely unnecessary,” but a lot can change in 14 years (surely in 2001 Harrison Ford didn’t think he’d be doing another Star Wars movie). He does seem interested in moving forward, but that’s pretty hard to do in Hollywood these days.
Willis, meanwhile, has been treading through a low point in his career, and losing his role in the next Woody Allen movie recently dug him even deeper. The Sixth Sense 2 would be a harder thing for him to decline, in part because it would be hard for it not to be his biggest hit in a long time. For his character to return is another matter. We can assume Malcolm never passed over to the other side, or we can be made to accept that he could return somehow. As for how the actor has aged beyond the character in these 16 years, a toupee could be plenty to have us forgive any new wrinkles. Willis is already supposed to re-team with Shyamalan for a project titled Labor of Love, so that can be a stepping stone.
If there’s a hurdle in any hope for a sequel, it’s definitely with the writer-director. “I own the sequel rights to these movies, and I’m very careful about it,” he told PopSugar when asked specifically about it in July (watch the whole interview below). “It isn’t about exploitation. It really should be something organic. And I really enjoy making original movies, something you haven’t seen before. I enjoy that challenge. I know for a fact [the audience] hasn’t seen a movie like The Visit. So it’s exciting and scary for me. And hopefully fun for them, that they’re going to see a type of film they’ve never seen.”
The thing is, a sequel doesn’t have to be something we’ve seen before. Even if it has the same characters and the same foundation of a premise, the next installment can be totally fresh, maybe even as unlike anything we’ve seen before as The Visit. Without believing that The Sixth Sense 2 necessarily has to be a big action movie or funnier or anything so extremely different, I’d point to Aliens, The Road Warrior, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Empire Strikes Back, Dawn of the Dead, Back to the Future Part II and Part III and (unofficially) Return to Oz all went in new directions and are cherished for their originality within the confines of a franchise.
It’s not ever exploitation if the sequel is good and it appeases the fans. For The Sixth Sense, demand from the fans will be required first, and I’m ever surprised the interest hasn’t been shown more over the years. Then all Shyamalan has to do is write something that will interest us all (fans and the rest) even more. The only question that then remains is: could a Sixth Sense sequel be different and well-made and not have a twist of any kind? Or would it be too much of an expectation and desire for some sort of fresh reveal at the end that its lack would leave everyone disappointed?