Throughout The Sixth Sense, Cole (a then-11-year-old Haley Joel Osment) is haunted by ghosts. But unlike in many horror tales, these specters aren’t trying to terrorize Cole. They just want him to listen.
In this pivotal sequence from the 1999 film, Cole has gone to the home of a recently deceased girl named Kyra (Mischa Barton). She emerges from under the bed — chillingly gaunt, her hand outstretched — to give Cole a videotape of her mother poisoning her. Kyra’s cause of death? Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
Several elements converged to create the terrifying shot above, which was taken at a different angle from what appeared in the film.
“There’s the use of shadows playing over the different shots, and the puppets,” director M. Night Shyamalan tells EW. “Tropes that are all loaded from other horror movies, but I’m using them as a red herring.”
Shyamalan directed Osment to move toward the puppets, but that’s not where the horror is. The boy jumps back, shocked, when Barton appears from under the bed instead. Many kids fear monsters popping out from under the bed, but Kyra only wants to communicate.
“He’s feeling that his life has become a horror movie,” Shyamalan says. “When she comes out from under the bed, the movie is saying, ‘Hey, we don’t belong to those tropes.’ That scene is about it changing to the experiences of humans.”
The scene plays a pivotal role in Cole’s journey. Up to that point, the boy has simply been terrified by the ghostly apparitions that appear around him bearing their gruesome, fatal wounds.
“Since we shot the film generally in chronological order, I had all of those memories of the traumatic experiences Cole had earlier in the film well in mind,” Osment tells EW in a statement. “For that reason, I remember it being a very uplifting experience to get through this sequence, all the way to talking to her younger sister on the swing set and explaining that she wouldn’t be coming back. It was such an important moment in the character’s life and really the first time he can feel hopeful for any kind of tolerable future. And for me personally, we now had the bulk of The Sixth Sense on film and could see the finish line approaching. I was beginning to feel the weight of what we had accomplished, and also a little sadness that the journey was coming to an end.”
The Sixth Sense marks its 20th anniversary this week. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.