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M Night Shyamalan’s Signs: The scariest moment in a movie with a 12 certificate age rating, 20 years on

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This month marks 20 years since one of the scariest moments in a film with a 12-certificate age rating.

In August 2002, M Night Shyamalan released his fifth film after Praying with Anger, Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the last two of which became huge Hollywood hits.

He followed his success up with Signs, a chiller starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. The film, set on a Pennsylvania farm, follows a family, led by Gibson’s widowed former reverend, who find crop circles in their fields.

As the film goes on, it becomes clear Earth is being invaded by extra-terrestrials.

Signs has several memorable scenes, but the one that looms large in the memory involves Phoenix’s character, Merrill.

The scene in question shows Merrill sleeping in front of a TV playing news coverage on the worldwide alien invasion. As he wakes up, the reporter is announcing “startling footage” filmed at a seventh birthday party in Brazil.

“What you’re about to see may disturb you,” the news anchor says, before the footage is played.

The footage shows a crowd of young children holed up inside a house, looking out the window for something they’ve spotted. The camcorder repeatedly tries to zoom in on the bushes in the back garden, but is unable to glimpse anything.

Going to a window at the front of the house, the camera fixes on an alleyway outside the house, as one terrified child says: “It’s behind!”

After a few seconds, an alien storms into shot, causing Merrill to shriek and fall back in shock.

The memorable birthday party scene in ‘Signs’ (Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)
The memorable birthday party scene in ‘Signs’ (Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

The brilliantly constructed jump scare frightened audiences upon the film’s release, and has since been voted one of the most terrifying film moments of all time in several polls.

Heightening the shock and discussion of the scene was the fact it featured in a 12-certificate film.

Intirguingly, exactly 20 years on from Signs’ release, another alien horror movie has been released: Jordan Peele’s Nope.

Nope, which stars Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya, is out in the US now, and will be released in the UK on 12 August.

Since Signs, Shyamalan’s films have included The Village, Split and Old. He recently finished shooting on a mysterious new horror called Knock at the Cabin, which stars Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint.

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