I realize this film had many good reviews. That's why I bought it. But it somehow managed to get by me without hooking me in. Its lack of impact had little to do with the acting, which is pretty good all around. Toni Collette is especially noteworthy. And Willis gives what is for him a subdued performance except, I have to say, that when he tries to grin with happiness or gets misty eyed with love, something within me begins to churn. The kid, Osment, is okay. Thank God he's not a cutie-pie.
The direction is deliberate but effective, supported by a semi-somnolent score that throws in a sting from time to time, as when the first ghost appears briefly, to wake the audience up.
The plot, alas, is a mish mash of overly familiar themes. Is it RIGHT to try to cure a kid who seems to know more than we do? (Cf., "Equus.") Even if the kid is frightened by the "dead people" he sees, who sometimes scream at him and scratch him? (Cf., "The Shining.") How come the kid speaks Latin? (Cf., "The Exorcist.") Or is this the momentary hallucination of someone who is dying? (Cf., "Incident at Owl Creek Bridge," or "Point Blank.") Who are these ghosts anyway? Why do they taunt the kid? Why does he see only tortured ones, people who have been hanged, poisoned, killed in car accidents, shot in the belly, or who slashed their wrists? Do they see each other? Do they eat and excrete? They seem to have the power to move objects in their environment. They can steal bumblebee pendants or scratch the kid.
They can, to give a more specific example, shove a box containing an incriminating tape out from under a bed and ask Osment to show the tape to their bereaved father. Well then why can't they themselves give Dad the box? Or leave it where he's bound to find it? If someone has done them dirt why must they use Osment as the middleman? Why not just kick ass?
Oh, and a final question. By the end of the film we know why Osment finally spills the beans to Willis, but why on earth hasn't he told his mother about it a long time ago? "I'm ready to communicate with you," he tells her solemnly when they're trapped in a traffic jam. Well, why now?
There is one way, though, in which the plot is cleverly constructed. In fact, the surprise revelation seems to have been thought of first and the entire movie structured around this anagnorisis. Yes, the story is as full of holes as a slice of Emmenthaler cheese but the whole point is the onion soup beneath. That climactic twist is a big relief in another way. Now we know why nobody wants to talk to Bruce Willis except Osment. And it's not his aftershave lotion.
It's a pretty gloomy picture actually, awfully low key, though the photography of Philadelphia is engaging. Willis and his wife, Olivia Williams, are shown admiring an award he has just won, as the film opens. They're drinking wine and joking about Dr. Seuss, but even then there's no exhilaration on the screen.
However, people seem to have given this film a cornucopia of plaudits so the weakness may be mine rather than the story's. There is no statistically significant difference between women and men in the user ratings -- he said confidently after merely eyeballing the results. I would have predicted a greater appeal for women. Maybe you'll get more out of it than I did.