Body Language Analysis №4061: Pennywise,”IT”, and Bill Skarsgård’s Demonic Smile — Why is IT so Scary? — Nonverbal and Emotional Intelligence (VIDEO, PHOTOS)
During his recent guest appearance Conan, Bill Skarsgård — made a particularly creepy face for his host. Mr. Skarsgård plays “Pennywise” in the recently released adaptation of IT — a film based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel.
But why is his face so frightening? While he does have an unusual ability to protrude his lower lip, this is not the freakiest part of his face.
What you probably first noticed are his eyes. Human beings are the only primates with white sclera on the front surface of their eyes. This gives us a heightened ability to accurately gauge how widely opened are other peoples’ eyes. Skarsgård’s upper eyelids (and to a lesser degree his lower eyelids) are opened much wider than baseline. You don’t have to be an ophthalmologist to notice this either — you truly feel it. More specifically — you feel it in your Amygdala.
First, your eyes see his eyes — and send signals to two areas of your brain — your amygdala (which is the brain’s fear center) and the visual cortex (the brain’s primary and higher-order area of sight processing). You’re wired this way so that you don’t have to intellectualize everything you see. If something is dangerous, the amygdala (usually) overrides the visual cortex. One take-home point with this anatomy lesson is to never ignore any feelings of fear. Just feel and react. If you think too much — it often will be too late.
Widely opened eyelids will also have a dramatically reduced frequency of blinking. Again, you don’t have to count someone’s blinks — you just feel it. This also sets off our internal alarm bells, as diminished blinking signals a high adrenaline surge. Those individuals with such high hormonal bursts, with great predictability — are dangerous. So without even thinking about it, we avoid people who don’t blink as often as they should.
Another feature on Skarsgård’s face which elevates our fear level is his relaxed forehead. At first this may seem ironic, however, when the eyelids are opened wide, the vast majority of times, both the forehead and the eyebrows also move upward. But not in this case — the actor’s forehead is relaxed. Our brain senses this out-of-context pattern — which adds an extra creepiness factor.
Now look at his mouth — it’s pulled primarily laterally, and only slightly upward. With sincere smiles, the corners of the mouth have a definite upward vectoring while contracting the cheek muscles. And even if his lower lip were not protruding outward, his mouth projects a peculiarly feigned feeling.
This post and the associated website serve as reference sources for the art and science of Body Language/Nonverbal Communication. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author. In an effort to be both practical and academic, many examples from/of varied cultures, politicians, professional athletes, legal cases, public figures, etc., are cited in order to teach and illustrate both the interpretation of others’ body language as well as the projection of one’s own nonverbal skills in many different contexts — not to advance any political, religious or other agenda.