The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan's first "successful" film. Released in 1999, it is considered a psychological thriller, and Shyamalan's films are often compared to those of Alfred Hitchcock, the "father" of the psychological thriller. (Shyamalan admits to being greatly influenced by Hitchcock, as well as author Agatha Christie.) As Hitchcock's films were known for suspense and cameo appearances by the director, Shyamalan's films have the same reputation, along with his signature "twists" at the movie's conclusion which provides the audience with a totally unsuspected ending. This was the film that established Shyamalan's reputation as a writer and film director. Shyamalan insists that his stories are about the "subtext;" necessary pieces to making a scary movie include a respect for the subject matter; treating the characters with a sense of realism; and, a great deal of the unknown—what is not told—"a sense of incompleteness for your imagination to fill in the rest."
As with literature, Shyamalan uses symbolism to convey subliminal messages to the audience. Throughout the film, red is avoided except in scenes with "explosive emotional moments and situations" and when the "real world...has been tainted by the other world." Red is often symbolic of passion, energy and anger. Shyamalan also uses "foreshadowing" in the deeply surprising moment when Cole admits, "I see dead people," a line that has become a classic in its own right, "a popular catchphrase after [the movie's] release." The foreshadowing, of course, is that Cole is "seeing" Crowe, who is also dead, though this is not known (even by Crowe) until the film's last few minutes. The ending was the world's glimpse into the "twist ending" for which Shyamalan is now known.
As with several of Shyamalan's other films, a child is at the heart of the story. His films also have "persistent romantic tendencies."
Time has great importance in romantic narratives and typically moves with the natural, cyclic markers of seasons and days and nights.
In The Sixth Sense, while there is no "once upon a time," which points to a rather indefinite time period, "The Next Fall" is used in the film which denotes the passage of time after the opening of the story. Another element in the film is its theme of "regeneration" (or second chances) and "renewal." In this movie, Bruce Willis' character is given a second chance—to save Cole, whereas he could not save Vincent when the story begins. In terms of renewal...
[Malcolm's] resurrection, paradoxically, allows him to accept and find peace in his death.
Thematic elements, which mirror similar elements in literature, abound in Shyamalan's films, and The Sixth Sense, upon closer inspection, provides (as does literature) a much deeper meaning than first may be apparent if viewing a film for simple pleasure only. Perhaps this is why the film works so well—it provides more or less substance based on what the viewer is looking for. I always find that films, as well as literature, become immensely more interesting and satisfying when deeper analysis provides the "audience" with hidden treasure. These kinds of discussions, "What did xyz mean?" can be fascinating and enjoyable. The Sixth Sense is definitely both.