Malcolm Crowe: Wanna play a game? It’s a mind-reading game. Here’s how it works. I read your mind. If what I say is right, you take one step towards the chair. If what I say is wrong, you take one step back.
R: No. But I knew the twist, which is the thing that always previously put me off watching it.
F: Yes it was a staple of sleepovers during my teenage years.
R: I never got to watch this without knowing the twist, which is a shame as it’s probably the best thing about the film. Do we need to give a SPOILER warning here so we can get into that?
F: Yes I think so. Hopefully everyone knows the twist in this film but just in case…
R: Nice warning. I think that’s clear enough!
F: So the first time I watched this I didn’t know that Bruce Willis is actually dead and it is one of those cases that when you know the ending you keeping asking yourself ‘wow it’s really obvious. How did nobody work this out?’ But that is what happens with most great twists in films.
R: As good as the twist is, I feel like the film is majorly hobbled by servicing it. The protagonist Malcolm doesn’t interact with anyone except for the spooky kid after the first scene. As a result he is about as dull a lead character as I’ve ever seen in a movie.
F: The idea though is that you don’t realise he only talks to one character until the twist is revealed. I remember thinking that his wife was just being distant and that he has conversations with other characters before Cole enters the room. Like other films – Psycho, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club – when you know the ending you spot the clues throughout.
R: I get that, but whether it’s consciously realised by the audience or not, the damage it does to the movie is the same. Most films use dialogue to give you a sense of the characters. Who is Malcolm? All we know is that he is/was good at his job and he’s having problems with his wife. Nothing of his personality comes out in the dialogue because he only ever talks to the boy, and only ever about the boy’s problems. I think they probably needed to do more to build his character before the gunshot scene to give him a bit more depth.
F: Yes I agree with the above. It was also cheesy how his wife reads out his award, they could have shown us some evidence of his work or at least see him receiving it! I feel we’re moving out of spolier territory now…
END OF SPOILER WARNING
R: Oh yes, the opening scene where his wife reads out the details of his award is a great example of the film’s terrible habit of telling rather than showing us things. You’re right it should probably instead have opened with an award ceremony where Malcolm could also have interacted with a few of his colleagues, his wife, and establish more of his character. Then they could come home to a house that’s been broken into and there’d be a stronger foundation for the rest of the plot.
F: You mention how the twist is the best thing about this but I disagree. I think Haley Joel Osment’s performance is the standout for me. Made even more impressive that he was just 10/11 years old at the time.
R: He is uncommonly good for someone that age, and he has got a fantastically expressive face. Although to counter that, I don’t think “look sad and whisper” is necessarily the toughest acting assignment. How scary is this film do you think?
F: Not as scary as I remember! I’m a massive wimp when it comes to scary films and tend to avoid them. But the only scene that scared me this time was when he goes to the bathroom in the night and only because I knew what was coming. This is the only real ‘horror’ film on the list (arguments to be made for Silence Of The Lambs and Psycho but this remains the only ghost story) and I’m really surprised to see it here ahead of some other classics from the genre.
R: Yeah I thought the scares were pretty tame. The twist can be the only thing that led the AFI selectorate to put this on the list ahead of the likes of either The Exorcist or The Shining. I guess they must really like twists!
Is it worthy of the top 100?
F: No. It’s ok but if there is room for just one horror film on the list then this isn’t it.
R: No. For me this is the first really major misstep in the list so far. A baffling choice when there are at least a dozen better examples of the genre.