Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: John Lee
Writers: Ilana Glazer, John Lee
Actors: Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan, Gretchen Mol
By Tom Moore
A24 has offered plenty of intriguing slow-burn horror stories, but “False Positive” is one of its most inquisitive in recent time with its thematic perspective on pregnancy and disturbing realizations.
The film is meant to be a contemporary take on “Rosemary’s Baby”(1968) as it follows a young woman named Lucy (Ilana Glazer) who’s been struggling to get pregnant with her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux). With few other options, Adrian suggests they visit his former teacher Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), a highly regarded fertility doctor, and directly upon meeting him, Lucy believes that her fantasy life of motherhood will come true. After their first appointment with Hindle and being comforted by his seemingly mystic charm and medical expertise, Lucy is impregnated by Hindle’s procedure. However, her dreams slowly turn nightmarish as she begins to suspect something much more sinister behind her pregnancy and Hindle’s charm.
Director John Lee and Glazer actually collaborated a lot with this film being both co-writers and producers. Not to mention, they previously worked before on Comedy Central’s “Broad City” – of which Glazer was actually one of the main creators. All this clearly great work chemistry comes through really well in “False Positive” as Glazer delivers a compelling performance that falls in line with the themes weaved throughout the film. Lucy’s wishes of pregnancy are well established and contain a lot of great meaning past just wanting to be a mother. Her dreams of seeing a little bit of herself and possibly her recently deceased mother in a daughter that she would name Wendy, as a nod to her mother reading “Peter Pan” to her as a child, are really sweet and make her pregnancy more meaningful. It creates a good emotional connection to Lucy and makes her story deeply personal.
It also works in establishing a standard, almost whimsical view of pregnancy that’s broken down and challenged through the film’s depiction of how pregnant women are perceived and treated. Although this is Lucy’s dream and her body is a pivotal aspect of it, she’s never feels in control of anything. Every worry she has is generally under-valued or easily dismayed by Hindle and any time she has a blackout, or her memory becomes foggy, it’s chalked up to “mommy brain.” Even in her workplace, her co-workers and bosses either overly compliment her to mask their judgement or use it as an excuse to keep her in a lower leveled position. She even sees herself dealing with constant judgement and doubt from everyone around her about the procedures she wants, the ideas she has, and for wanting that daughter she’s dreamed of. It’s painfully realistic gaslighting that opens up conversations on how women are really treated when they’re pregnant.
Throughout the film, you can feel Lucy’s agency and sense of choice be slowly ripped away and it’s not just because Hindle is clearly up to something more sinister. All the personal happiness and hopes Lucy has are slowly drained by the people around her not wanting to take her issues and ideas seriously and making her feel lesser than this pregnancy. Lee definitely goes for a more satirical approach in displaying this, but the impact of it is never lost and is very thought-provoking. It perfectly displays why Lucy eventually becomes more trusting of a mystical midwife named Grace (Zainab Jah) who actually cares about her feelings and own well-being and ends up poking a bit of fun at the magical Negro trope rather than the undeniably charming, but cold and slightly daunting nature of Hindle.
The combination of Lee’s direction, Glazer’s performance, and the duo’s strong writing really flesh out this perspective on pregnancy that opens your mind on the subject in a new way. Speaking for myself, it actually made me think deeper on postpartum depression in women after they give birth and how we could, perhaps, mediate this better by giving stronger support and care during pregnancy. Like asking if they need help or are okay if they’re feeling forgetful, lost, or emotionally distressed rather than dismissing it with a cutesy term like “mommy brain.”
Lee definitely brings his best in making Lucy’s story a call for support and care for pregnant women, but nearly makes it a part of a stale viewing experience in the lack of thrills the film provides. “False Positive” definitely gets its mystery hooks into you early on with its tantalizing questions of what Hindle is really up to, especially in that secretive lab of his, and why Adrian is being so secretive as Lucy’s birth comes closer. However, there are just lackluster thrills sprinkled in that aren’t doing much or are just kind of dull. Also, Lee overuses dream-like sequences way too often that can disconnect you to moments or create false moments in the story that cut the momentum or the full point of the themes its presenting.
However, it’s crazy final act won me over as a horror fan with two big turns that felt so right with how Lucy’s agency has been ripped away and were absolutely horrifying. The first is a purely gut-wrenching realization that Lucy’s sense of control was never there and that her dreams were never there to begin with. It’s definitely expected and kind of hinted at by Lee through certain split shots throughout the film but remains perfectly haunting encapsulation of all the film’s themes. The second is a horrifying cherry on top that’ll probably go down as one of the most horrifying, non-graphic rape realizations in film. It’s a full realization of Hindle’s God-complex and delivers a horrifying version of a mad scientist villain that’s equal parts charming and absolutely insane. Even the way the film finishes with sort of an epilogue of Lucy’s story is very fitting and leaves things on a perfectly heavy note.
“False Positive” might not be purely thrilling perfection, but it’s a film that sticks with you and makes you think about it long after viewing – a true sign of a film, at least in my mind, that shows it’s really special. At the very least, Glazer and Lee deliver a unique perspective on pregnancy that’s truly thought-provoking and surrounding by a tantalizing mystery that leaves you wanting more and leads to one hell of a conclusion. It’s a film that really needs to get eyes on it and having it premiere on Hulu gives it a good chance.