false positive review

Why can’t pregnancy horror movies escape the ghost of Rosemary’s Baby? More than 50 years have passed since the Roman Polanski classic hit our screens, but its shadow looms large over many a movie that attempts to tackle the horrifying realities — and fantasies — of childbirth. And it’s a shadow that False Positive, the Ilana Glazer-starring horror film directed by John Lee and co-written by Lee and Glazer, gets lost in.

Glazer stars as Lucy, a perfect wife in every way to Justin Theroux’s successful plastic surgeon Adrian (Justin Theroux), except that she can’t get pregnant. The couple have been trying to conceive for two years now, but to no avail, and Lucy blames herself. Adrian finally suggests that they visit his former mentor and celebrated OB-GYN Dr. Hindle (a deliciously creepy Pierce Brosnan), whose exclusive fertility clinic has been pioneering never-before used in vitro techniques.

Dr. Hindle’s clinic is exactly the kind of pristine haven that a bourgeois New York couple would dream of — sporting minimalist décor and pastel colors, it might as well be screaming “millennial pink,” except for the charmingly vintage outfits of the nurses, who all look like Barbie versions of Nurse Ratched. The crisp cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski (Midsommar, Hereditary) only heightens the clinical aesthetics of the place, whose soft, unthreatening décor puts Lucy at ease enough to agree to the fertility treatment despite her reluctance.

It’s not long before Lucy is pregnant, and she rejoices with the handful of people in her life, including her sycophantic coworkers at a marketing firm — who gush over her “glow” while giving her their lunch orders — and the smiling members of a mommy club that she joins. But Lucy is strangely isolated, apart from her close relationship with her husband, who has started to act suspiciously. Stranger and stranger things keep happening: Lucy starts forgetting things, she has disturbing visions of dark blood and secret safes, and she imagines illicit trysts between her husband and Dr. Hindle. Her husband and everyone else chalk up her growing paranoia to “mommy brain,” a real condition that describes that spacey, sleep-deprived state of new moms, but it’s almost like Lucy is newly awake, jolted out of the stupor of her happy life beforehand.

This is Glazer’s big foray out of comedy, a chance to shed her chaotic good Broad City persona that she’s only strengthened with roles in raunchy comedies like The Night Before and Rough Night. And she goes so far as to zap herself of any semblance of that wild persona, delivering a performance so subdued that she veers into Stepford territory. Glazer even sleepwalks her way through the character’s deeper descent into paranoia — though it’s hard to sympathize with this woman slowing losing her sanity when you’re not even sure she was flesh and blood to begin with.

Lucy, and all the characters of False Positive, are such vague sketches of people that feel like they began as a satirical comedy bit. Theroux is well-cast as the “good” husband who does just enough things wrong that you don’t trust him, but offers little beyond his slippery handsomeness. But Brosnan is the only one to fully embrace the camp crumbs within the script, delivering a devilishly sinister performance that starts to infect the pristine surroundings around him, casting an evil light on even the most innocent-looking wall art.

The entire film toddles between camp and horror, but not in an intentional way; it’s as if Lee and Glazer weren’t sure they wanted to make their script a horror-comedy or a straightforward horror film. Lee makes up for it with a clear sense of style — cribbed from so many a better horror movie — but it can’t make up for a strangely inert narrative.

There’s something here, beneath the glassy-eyed performances and the Instagram aesthetics, about class and privilege and the evils of men — and you could even make a case for False Positive being yet another effective display of gaslighting as horror — but any actual messages are too vague to parse. False Positive wants to impress, but it doesn’t know how; merely using the style and imagery of its horror movie predecessors in an attempt at “atmosphere.” It would be a less laborious experience if Glazer didn’t go so far in the opposite direction while trying to separate herself from her comedy roots, and would’ve just allowed herself and everyone else in this movie to have some fun.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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