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M. Night Shyamalan Used An Extreme Method To Pull Off That Iconic Sixth Sense Scene

Believe it or not, we are already a couple of decades removed from M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense," which celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release in 2019. The film, which pulled in over half a billion dollars worldwide, put both actor Haley Joel Osment and writer/director Shyamalan on the Hollywood map, especially the latter, who went on to make twist-ending staples such as "Signs," "Unbreakable," and "The Village." The blockbuster also propelled Osment, who had already played the son of "Forrest Gump, with fans melting over his adorable smile in follow-up movies such as "A.I." and "Pay It Forward."  

Like plenty of other iconic films, "The Sixth Sense" featured one particular moment (and a small piece of dialogue), that became synonymous with the emerging plot-twist-thriller genre. This scene, which was gifted to audiences during the film's trailer, was when the character Cole Sear (Osment) tells his newly-appointed therapist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), "I see dead people." Even months before the film was released, with just those four words, fans were chilled by that line.

What made that line of dialogue even more spine-tingling was seeing the breath escape poor Cole's mouth during that scene. In an interview with Variety, when discussing the 20th anniversary, both Osment and Shyamalan revealed that certain extreme steps were taken to make this chilling moment as realistic as possible.

M. Night Shyamalan really set the chilling scene for Osment

When "The Sixth Sense" was released in 1999, fans arrived in droves to see the story behind the few minutes they were already exposed to when its trailer dropped months before. However, the majority were probably not aware that little Haley Joel Osment, when uttering the iconic line, "I see dead people," had no CGI or movie tricks used to provide the below-freezing breath that escaped his mouth. That's because writer/director M. Night Shyamalan decided it would be more realistic to put the 11-year-old into actual freezing conditions.

Osment recalled to Variety that CGI effects weren't nearly as impressive as they are today, so Shyamalan decided to add in some actual chilled air. "What they did was they would drape this huge plastic sheeting over the sets and then pump in freezing cold air so that it would be below freezing, and you could see our breath," Osment explained. Although pretty harsh for a young actor, Osment already understood the benefit of this tactic. "It's a tough environment, but it's great when you're in a scene where you're supposed to be frightened and shivering and it really is that cold. You can actually use real elements in those situations," he said. 

As for Shyamalan, he reiterated the fact CGI wasn't what it was now, so this was the best way to get his desired effect. However, despite today's advances in movie-magic technology, he stands by the practical effect being the best option. Shyamalan explained, "[Osment] wasn't acting, it was cold, and you could see the physicality on his skin and the way he's shivering. And even now, with CGI, I might do it the same way because of what it makes the actors do."