False Positive opens on a woman covered in blood. She’s in white, red drips pouring down her face, marching with a blank stare. We’ll soon learn what lead up to this apparent horror show, that this is a woman who’s just experienced the hell of the patriarchal healthcare system. The scary tale of a woman losing her agency to our horrid reality hints that it might be a creative metaphor, but it’s themes are much more on its (bloody) face.
Lucy (Ilana Glazer) can’t wait to be a mom. Her and her husband, Adrian (Justin Theroux), have been trying for years. Unable to conceive “naturally,” they visit Adrian’s old mentor, Dr. Jon Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), a coveted fertility doctor with a brand-new approach at guaranteeing pregnancy. After her first visit, Lucy is inseminated and soon learns she’s pregnant three times over with a set of male twins and a female. Lucy is told she needs to make an impossible choice and have a selective reduction procedure. The fetuses will not all be viable, and she has to choose which to carry to term. Starting her pregnancy journey with a difficult decision sets her off on a shaky foot. Soon, Lucy spirals, slowly feating she has lost autonomy in her pregnancy and in all aspects of her life, struggling to remain in control of her own body while new life grows within it.
Glazer and John Lee, who co-wrote (Lee directed), are more known for their comedy chops, having previously worked together on Broad City. Comedians turning to horror is a tale as old as time, often a natural transition since both scares and laughs require the same rhythm of set-up and punchline. Further, both often satirize the real world. False Positive doesn’t read like a clever satire, but more a showcase of a frightening reality without making a comment.
“[False Positive] is, no doubt, taking on the horror of the patriarchal healthcare system.”
This flick is, no doubt, taking on the horror of the patriarchal healthcare system. Lucy, a willing future mother, is suddenly stripped of her bodily autonomy as soon as she becomes pregnant. The white male doctor and his loyal nurses, along with her husband, take her agency away from her by controlling her pregnancy from the sidelines. The healthcare system has not been kind to pregnant people, specifically women of color, and this story is not so subtly referencing that. In lieu of metaphor or theme, there are literal video history lessons about the oppressive healthcare system played aside scenes of Lucy insisting she’s been raped. It’s relevant subject matter, notably as we’re seeing the release of this feature coinciding with Brittney Spears addressing a judge over her conservatorship. Spears told the judge she lost autonomy over her own body, specifically over her own reproductive wants. There’s something meaty that’s been tapped for this story, but the story fails to deliver.
The themes exist, but they’re never fully explored in a way beyond what might make for a satirical headline on twitter. Lucy excels at work, but she still takes lunch orders. Her boss puts his hand on her back. Her friends are vapid. Her husband is older than her. She fixates on a Black midwife who calls her out for tokenizing her. On Broad City, Lee and Glazer stacked themes and jokes on top of real-world messiness, but here, they feel off their game simply pointing a camera at reality for some Intersectional Feminism 101. Further, Lucy is a wealthy white woman who only interacts with her similar contemporaries. The only person of colour in the movie is reduced to a gag about tokenization that shows a staggering lack of self-awareness on behalf of the creators. It’d odd, considering Glazer’s feminism, and can maybe be explained as another sardonic misfire, but that doesn’t shield it from criticism.
Cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski (Midsommar, Hereditary), does some pretty work here, shooting certain conversations from stagnant perspectives, often in the distance. It creates a feeling of ice-cold vastness making Lucy feel farther from the comfort of the audience and reality. Scenes with Dr. Hindle and his nurses, adorned in outfits evocative of Nurse Ratched, feel like they’re sliced from David Cronenberg’s Rabid. It’s not a beautiful movie in any sense, but it’s clinical and drab appearance make the whole event feel clinical, which suits the theme.
The problem with calling this tale a “riff” on Rosemary’s Baby is that it’s not a riff on anything. It feels like watching the experience that might have inspired a horror film. The filmmakers described their work as a contemporary take on the famous horror story, but it’s not; it’s a derivative collection of gripes with the healthcare system that never push beyond shallow nods to a film that’s been referenced in the horror canon for a half a century.