False Positive

“This pregnancy [stuff] is no joke!”, one mom-to-be proclaims to another over lunch in False Positive, a fitfully inspired but thoroughly distracted horror film about the terrors of new motherhood. The line is courtesy of star and screenwriter Ilana Glazer, departing from 5 seasons of the hit Comedy Central series Broad City to make the transition to film in a more serious role. Though the tone of the material is different than what she’s written before, it would seem to be just as personal and potentially autobiographical, as she and her partner announced a few months ago that they were expecting their first child. Unfortunately, her perspective on the subject is sadly obscured in a script that can’t seem to settle on what it wants to say about bringing a new life into the world.

Glazer stars as Lucy Martin, a copywriter who has been trying for years to get pregnant with her reconstructive surgeon husband Adrian (Justin Theroux). With time ticking away on the biological clock, the Martins call in the big guns by way of top-5-in-the-country fertility specialist Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) and his Stepford Wife-like nurse Dawn (Gretchen Mol). Through Hindle’s patented method, a hybrid approach of IVF and IUI, Lucy does indeed become pregnant but the persistent nausea is the least of her new concerns. Difficult decisions about the baby-to-be have to be made early, creating a rift between Adrian and Lucy and causing the latter to find support in the form of the also-pregnant Corgan (Sophia Bush). But no amount of camaraderie can shake Lucy’s feeling that something about her “birth story” is completely amiss.

There’s a shot around the halfway mark of False Positive that sums up Glazer and director John Lee’s thesis statement in one cleverly-composed image. Adrian stands to the side of a reposed Lucy as Dr. Hindle stands behind her over the examination table but the characters’ positions make it appear as though Lucy isn’t actually present with them. As many loose plot threads and thematic ambitions as the film contains, I take its central message to revolve around women’s diminished agency when it comes to birthing decisions in modern medicine. My favorite extrapolation of this idea is the recurrence of the phrase “mommy brain”, blithely uttered by both male and female characters, to dismiss concerns of pregnant women and leave them vulnerable to gaslighting and other forms of manipulation.

But there’s just too much else going on in the film’s lean 92 minute runtime to bring the potency or urgency of that message home. Described in the press as being “a contemporary take on Rosemary’s Baby“, the movie has less to do with Polanski’s pregnancy paranoia tale than something like Midsommar, a horror movie about a woman able to see evil clearly amid a group of men who remain blind to it. Where that film leans into its creepy cult conceit, False Positive asks us to suspend disbelief that Brosnan’s Dr. Hindle could be anything but a mad scientist with nefarious plans. The movie’s back half leans hard into the unreliable narrator trope we’ve seen often in horror movies, culminating with a confusing Peter Pan metaphor and an off-putting ending whose shock value is totally unearned.

Making her first foray into drama, Glazer gives a committed performance in the lead role but all of the other actors don’t seem to have a grasp of the material or the conviction to carry out its concepts. Theroux doesn’t add much to his role as the absent husband and his lack of chemistry with Glazer makes their relationship less credible, especially when one considers the difficult journey their characters have endured together. Brosnan is fine in his villainous role but he can play suave and phlegmatic in his sleep. I would’ve much rather seen this cast, who has more comedic chops than it may seem at first glance, play in a sharply-penned comedy about modern pregnancy anxieties than watch them toil in a boilerplate chiller like this. Underwritten and dependent on tired genre clich├ęs, False Positive would have benefited greatly from a longer gestation period.

Score – 2/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is F9, the latest in the Fast & Furious franchise starring Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in which Dom and the rest of his carjacking crew square off against his estranged brother.
Streaming on Netflix is The Ice Road, a disaster thriller starring Liam Neeson and Laurence Fishburne about a tough-as-nails big-rig driver who leads an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save a group of trapped miners.
Coming to theaters this weekend and available to digitally rent the following weekend is Werewolves Within, a comedy whodunnit starring Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub about a snowstorm that traps the residents of a small town in a local inn with a lycanthrope.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup