Speak of the Devil: How Popular Film Antagonists Use Language

Sarah Belew, Jacques Gueye, Kaley Phan, Boyi Zheng

In this study, we analyze the linguistic behavior of antagonists in psychological thriller movies in order to understand/index the features in their language that make them “creepy”. We chose 4 different films to view: Misery (1990), Silence of the Lamb (1991), The Lovely Bones (2009), and Gone Girl (2004). From these films, we analyze how abnormality is constructed using subtle linguistic behaviors of word choice, intonation, and sociolect. We theorize that abnormality in the character’s linguistic traits is rooted in deviation of their demographic’s language pattern and what is considered appropriate for social interaction, or “creepy.” As a result, we find that the antagonists are aligned in their sociolects, word choice patterns of calling the antagonist’s name with great frequency, and that female antagonists have a “(Rise)-Rise-Fall” pattern in prosody. These marked patterns come together to create vivid, memorable characters that are unmistakably creepy.

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