It’s almost impossible to not associate Ilana Glazer with the slacker, New York sitcom Broad City — a show which she created with her best friend Abbi Jacobson. But in A24 and Hulu’s atmospheric horror False Positive, the actor-writer proves that she’s not just a one-trick pony and more than just her Broad City character. Sharply written, with tension that keeps on building, False Positive draws a lot of similarity to Rosemary’s Baby — both are horror films about pregnancy and the politics of the female body. While at first it looks just like a modern retelling of the aforementioned masterpiece 1968 horror, director-writer John Lee and Glazer, who also co-wrote and produced, find a way to keep things original and make the movie its own thing.
Glazer plays Lucy, a wife who’s been trying and struggling to get pregnant for months. One day, her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux) persuades her to see his former professor John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), who’s now working as a fertility doctor. Though at the beginning Lucy feels reluctant, she eventually goes to meet Hindle with Adrian. And much to her surprise, Hindle, for some reason, manages to get her pregnant only at their first appointment — not just with one baby, but with healthy male twins as well as a smaller female one.
Hindle advises selective reduction to both Lucy and Adrian if they want the pregnancy to be healthy, and he also tells them to keep the male twins instead of the female baby — a suggestion that Adrian instantly agrees on in spite of the fact that Lucy obviously wants to keep the girl, whom she plans to name Wendy. As Lucy’s belly gets bigger, she increasingly begins to feel suspicious that Hindle and her own husband might be in cahoots and might have done something to the unborn Wendy behind her back. When Lucy tries to confront Adrian and confides in her pregnant friend Corgan (Sophia Bush), they dismiss her, saying that it’s probably just anxiety from the pregnancy. But Lucy trusts her instinct, so she goes to untangle all the mysteries even though she has no one by her side except for herself.
For the most part of its second act, False Positive follows Lucy as she’s trying to prove that her suspicions about Hindle and Adrian is not wrong. And it’s where the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. The movie never makes it clear what’s really happening or what’s just inside Lucy’s head, and although that can be a little frustrating, it’s actually pretty effective at making us feel directly what Lucy is experiencing throughout the movie, which is gaslighting.
At its heart, False Positive is about aggression that women have to face in the society, as well as about how difficult it is for them to demonstrate freedom and control over their own body. And while the main plot largely centres on Lucy’s pregnancy, the perspective that the movie offers in regards to the subjects above is not limited only within the medical world, where alpha male figures like Hindle are sometimes more interested in asserting their power and dominance rather than believing what women like Lucy are really feeling. The movie also depicts the other spectrums of aggression, particularly workplace sexism as seen when Lucy has to deal with her patronising bro co-workers.
Where False Positive stumbles a little is in its climax. Lee wants to go for Argento-level of horror and suspense, but ends up leaning more towards over-the-top campiness. The tonal shift isn’t done smoothly, and as a result, the movie can’t quite stick its landing. But even then, Glazer’s grounded performance, paired with Brosnan’s bone-chilling turn as Hindle always keep the movie bloody entertaining until the very end — with Pawel Pogorzelski’s minimalist yet breathtaking cinematography and Lucy Railton and Yair Elazar Glotman’s string-heavy horror score add an even more eerie feelings throughout. False Positive not only proves that Glazer can be a phenomenal dramatic actor, but overall, it’s also a solid feminist horror exploring the politics of the female body, with enough tension to keep you on your toes.
False Positive starts streaming from Friday, 25 June 2021 on Hulu.