If there was ever a movie that could be accused of being both too subtle and too heavy-handed at the same time, it would be "The Sixth Sense."

And despite trailers that make it appear to be a straight horror film, it's actually more of a psychological thriller-drama-fantasy hybrid, with some genuine plot surprises and solid performances.

"The Sixth Sense" is also surprisingly creepy and engrossing, though it nearly collapses when it veers toward saccharine sentimentality toward the end. And the slow pacing — though extremely appropriate for the material — may turn off viewers who are not expecting the film to be so character-driven.

Another group that may be turned off is Bruce Willis' loyal fan base, which expects to see him in more action-oriented pieces. Here, he stars as Malcolm Crowe, a Philadelphia psychiatrist specializing in childhood disorders.

However, one of his cases goes disastrously wrong, which leaves him doubting his abilities — and worse, unable to communicate with his beautiful young wife ("Rushmore's" Olivia Williams).

A year later, Malcolm gets what could be seen as a second chance to prove his abilities when he tries to treat Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment, from "Bogus"), an 8-year-old who claims he is visited by ghosts — and even more astonishingly, that he can communicate with the dead.

As you might guess, Malcolm is skeptical about the boy's claims, as is Cole's hardworking but loving mother (Toni Collette). But things start happening around them that indicate the boy may be telling the truth after all.

Revealing more of the plot would be unfair, but suffice it to say that where the material is headed isn't necessarily where you'd expect it to go — though screenwriter-director M. Night Shyamalan (who wrote and directed last year's little-seen comedy-drama "Wide Awake") has left a series of clues to help audiences figure it out.

Unfortunately, in his rush to heighten the film's sense of mystery and tension, Shyamalan has also left some subplots and ideas unexplored, and the film nearly takes a disastrous misstep in the final third.

To his credit, though, he has coaxed some fine performances from his cast. Despite his ridiculous hairpiece, Willis is restrained and believable, while the mature-for-his-age Osment (who played young "Forrest Gump") nearly upstages his older castmates.

On the supporting side, Donnie Wahlberg is creepy in a crucial but smaller role, while both Collette and Williams do their best with their underwritten parts.

"The Sixth Sense" is rated PG-13 for scattered profanities, violence (mostly gunplay), gory makeup effects, some crude slang terms and brief female partial nudity.