PLOT: After trying and failing to get pregnant, a couple, Lucy and Adrian, decides to seek out a fertility doctor to help them start a family. But after becoming pregnant, Lucy begins to feel something is not right and sets out to uncover the mystery of what it happening with her body.
REVIEW: When crafting their psycho-horror-drama FALSE POSITIVE, writers Ilana Glazer (who also stars) and John Lee (who also directs) probably had a very clear idea of what story they wanted to tell – and it involves quite a bit. Tackling the kind of pregnancy anxiety that can’t avoid being seen as a modern take on Rosemary’s Baby while trying to satirize the medical industry made up of practitioners that assure women they know their bodies better than they do is undoubtedly a lot to cram into a 90-minute runtime. And while exploring those themes is not without merit, the hodge-podge of slow-burn dread that rings dull, winking satire that hits the target, and the eventual turn into bloody rage buries intelligent ideas in execution that fails to completely entice.
After trying and failing to get pregnant for two years, Lucy (Glazer) and her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux), seek out a renowned fertility doctor, Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), whom the latter knows personally. Hindle’s office and the nurses – glad in old-school pink gowns – have an unsettling Stepford quality about them, wherein their kindness and warmth are clearly masking something deranged. Even Hindle himself has a fatherly vibe that could easily coax anyone into believing anything that he says or does is truly done out of love and care, and is in no way suspicious. But his methods get results, and after becoming pregnant Lucy is doted upon and given congratulations at work – herself at one point pining over getting to “have it all” as a modern woman. As to be expected, not everything that glitters is gold and soon Lucy begins to suspect not everything is on the up-and-up with her pregnancy, Hindle, Hindle’s loyal lead nurse (Gretchen Mol), or even her husband. She begins to have bloody, surreal hallucinations that foreshadow some dark deeds going on, which on a storytelling front, simply seem peppered in to mask the fact there’s not much storytelling going on.
While the people around her, including her new pregnant friend Corgan (Sophia Bush), try to gaslight her anxiety and troubles away as “mommy brain,” these instances of taking aim at both a patriarchal industry that feels designs to control women and an upper-class mentality of what it means to be pregnant feels threadbare without much meaning behind them. Lucy’s story as a whole feels designed to put her in situation after situation that allows Glazer and Lee to point out how life as a pregnant woman is marred by people who seem to assume they know better than her, but without much depth beyond that. In these instances, like with Lucy’s boss (Josh Hamilton), who is always ordering from the same bourgeois salad place for his staff’s lunch, the substance screams satire, but the overly serious execution over-subtlety makes it difficult to grab hold of the humor, making everything instead just come off as monotonous without driving home any real message.
As for tension, much of the heavy lifting comes from the cerebral, nightmarish visions Lucy has, which can certainly feel jarring while dually padded out to make audiences know they are in fact watching a horror thriller. On an emotional level, they manifest Lucy’s anxieties that come from knowing something is wrong with her own body, and how those anxieties distort her view of the world – which leads to everything from the screen being covered in blood to a full-on subversion of the “magical Negro” trope (embodied in Zainab Jah). Lee does manage to craft some reasonably unnerving visuals, making use of minimalist production design in some cases and some twisted misdirections. But while all of these themes that Glazer and Lee tackle in the script and that Lee attempts to land on as a visceral filmmaker are worthy of analysis, so much is slammed together the movie as a whole can’t help but feel like a sequence of checking off boxes.
Glazer, known for her comedic roles in Broad City (which she co-created and starred in with Abbi Jacobson) and Rough Night does some admirably bold work here, offering up a level of vulnerability that’s commendable despite the storytelling shortcomings. Her level of distress is often the only thing that makes some of the more suspenseful sequences feel tense. Brosnan too does some good work as Hindle, hiding behind his charming smile and handsome face a seediness that’s easy to miss. Mol gets some solid scenes in there as the unnerving dedicated nurse, and Theroux seems perfectly fine accepting the role as the shady husband who gets to be shady in the background.
Ultimately, however rich False Positive is in ideas, not much justice is given to those ideas across an execution that’s constantly missing the mark. Attempts at dark humor often fall flat; slow-burn dread rings hollow in a threadbare mystery with a weak payoff and; its final turn into madness feels too wrapped up in coming off as twisted without feeling totally earned. Glazer is ready to take on work that pushes her as an actress, and Lee does have an eye for crafting some off-putting visuals, but none of their work is put to the best use here in a movie that was made with the best intentions and so-so execution.