False Positive is a psychological thriller with a sense of humor, starring Ilana Glazer as a woman who is forced to trust either her friends and family or her own body.
An early moment of tone-setting in False Positive comes when Adrian (Justin Theroux) is asked to ejaculate into a cup for the purposes of intrauterine insemination of his wife, Lucy (Ilana Glazer). All we see is the cup in Adrian’s hand, and then a hard cut to a phone in a dark room watching some truly disturbing BDSM porn. Just as quickly as you can comprehend what you’re watching, the scene is over and we’re back to the sterility of a doctor’s office again with the prior scene never mentioned again. This scene felt like a sort of litmus test in the film. Either you are horrified by Adrian’s taste in porn, or you find it funny that he’s watching something so dark. Perhaps the answer lies in between. Maybe you’re just disgusted.
This balance of tone and temper plays throughout False Positive, the newest horror hit from A24 and a stunning feature debut from writer/director John Lee and his co-writer Ilana Glazer. John Lee is best known for shows like Wonder Showzen and The Shivering Truth, which blend shock and humor to a great effect (see this clip for an example of Wonder Showzen’s particular sense of sick humor). Glazer, meanwhile, is branching out of the Broad City style completely for False Positive. But one thing that Glazer and Lee have in common is a specific voice. And this movie knows how to turn that voice into a primal scream.
Glazer’s Lucy has been trying to get pregnant with her husband Adrian for two years, but issues with fertility have led her and her husband to turn to a clinic run by Adrian’s enigmatic mentor Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). Yet the success of Hindle’s methods might come at a cost to Lucy, who begins to spiral into paranoia. After a few emergency medical procedures to guarantee an uncomplicated pregnancy, Lucy wonders if something more sinister is happening in her womb, causing her to doubt Adrian, Dr. Hindle, and everyone else. Not to mention the fact that Lucy has to deal with the issues that affect any successful pregnant woman trying to balance a career and a pregnancy.
Comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby are going to be apt, but this is much more of a psychological film about the effects of gaslighting and “Mommy Brain” on women. The scariest moments in False Positive come from actual complications that happen in pregnancies, with the decisions that parents make for the safety of their child becoming the driving force of the film. Brosnan plays a competent but emotionless doctor in a brilliant treat for audiences used to James Bond. His midwife counterpart played by an incredible find in Zainab Jah provides an emotional but perhaps less safe view on pregnancy.
If you’re looking for a traditional horror film, you might be disappointed. False Positive has grown on me in the day since I watched it, though. The sick humor and the intense thrills are great, almost all driven by Glazer as a performer and her and Lee as writers. Glazer could be this year’s biggest scream queen, a dark but humanistic performance that plays up the talents of an actress best known for sketch comedy.
However, if you get on False Positive’s wavelength, you’ll be in for a treat. With some great performers (Gretchen Mol and Sophia Bush both have small but entertaining roles), a few good scares, lots of twists, and a few great jokes, False Positive is worth the stream.
False Positive stars Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux, Gretchen Mol, Zainab Jah, Sophia Bush, and Pierce Brosnan. It’s directed by John Lee, written by Glazer and John Lee, from a story by Lee and Alissa Nutting. False Positive will be on Hulu starting June 25th.