In contrast to the threat of grotesque violence deployed by Saw, the genre of spectral incognizance reassuringly represents death as an event that can be overlooked, (1) The protagonist of this genre, with whom the viewer is meant to identify for the entirety of the film, finds out in the final moments of the narrative that he or she has died or has been involved in a prolonged dying process.
In what follows, I isolate the mechanism of the subgenre of spectral incognizance by examining The Sixth Sense and The Others alongside their literary predecessor, Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1891).
Night Shyamalan's 1999 blockbuster, The Sixth Sense, is perhaps the most famous cinematic narrative of spectral incognizance.
Narratives of spectral incognizance are predicated on the idea that dying is not only a corporeal failure, but also a cognitive act: those who overlook their deaths are not really dead.
Films of spectral incognizance initially heighten our anxiety by reminding us of the similarities between ourselves and the diegetic characters.
To protect us from this untenable position, films of spectral incognizance force us to reconsider our role as spectators at the very moment in which they link the protagonist's cognition to his or her death.
The image of driving as a metaphor for a life that has exceeded its limits is a recurrent trope in films of spectral incognizance, including Carnival of Souls and the Twilight Zone television episode "The Hitch-Hiker" (1960), each of whose protagonists embarks on the fantasy of a prolonged road trip after she has (unknowingly) died in a car crash.