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Forget "Blair Witch," "Sixth Sense" will leave you chilled, thrilled and unnerved.

Dark Secrets

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If you felt "Blair Witch" was much ado about nothing, then you'll not want to miss "The Sixth Sense." Unsettling, disturbing and genuinely shriek-worthy, this paranormal powerhouse will shake you to the core. Far more subdued and subtle than any of the summer's other fright fests, "The Sixth Sense's" depiction of a child terrified by the undead feels real. Real scary.

As child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe, Bruce Willis is just coming to terms with having been terrified by a disturbed and suicidal former patient. His marriage is falling apart; his wife is a mere phantom of herself after the incident. Then 8-year-old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) enters his life, brought to the good doctor by his mother (Toni Collette), who is at her wit's end. Her sad-faced son won't tell her what's bothering him.

It turns out the sensitive and shy young Cole is besieged by ghosts. Real ghosts. Ghosts who leave wounds on his body that school officials and others fear may have been inflicted by his mother.

The undead also show Cole things almost too horrendous for a child to bear. But there are other ghosts who have reassuring messages they want delivered to the living. And Cole is their chosen messenger.

Written and directed by 28-year-old M. Night Shyamalan, "Sixth Sense" has an eerie, dreamlike quality to it, suggesting an otherworldly plane. Almost mesmerized, we watch the plot unfold. Shyamalan paces his movie slowly, giving it a brooding, chilly quality. Some may be bothered by this deliberate pacing, but it also allows the viewer time to absorb just how deep and terrifying young Cole's alienation is. With equal care, Shyamalan sparingly reveals Cole's tormentors to us.

While Willis is believable as the caring, personally conflicted Dr. Crowe, the movie belongs to Osment. You simply cannot keep your eyes off of him, so vividly does he convey the terrors besetting his character's young soul. His empathetic ability is unsettling, making us share everything he feels: the isolation, the intelligence, the horror.

A seasoned veteran, Osment cut his acting teeth on parts that include Tom Hanks' son in "Forrest Gump" and Candice Bergen's offspring on TV's "Murphy Brown." While the "Gump" role may have hinted at his talents, his performance here is breathtaking. So astounding is he that you should not be surprised to see his name among the best actor contenders on Oscar night.

Yes, Osment is seriously that good.

And Shyamalan's screenplay supports his performance, creating a convincing portrait of a child tormented by happenstance rather than choice. Or maybe not? Rarely has a film within the horror genre been so detailed, so carefully calculated to snare us. When the final spectacular twist hits, you'll gasp for breath.

Masterfully plotted by Shyamalan and superbly acted by Osment, "The Sixth Sense" will haunt you for quite some

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