[Tribeca 2021 Review] 'False Positive' Explores the Invasiveness of Men on a Woman's Body with Horrific Results
As of yesterday, I was completely unaware of something called “Mommy Brain…”
…In doing research, there seems to be a debate on the existence of this condition, but the majority falls to the side of yes, it is real, and yes, it can be scary. Mommy Brain is a sort of brain fog that can overcome a woman during and sometimes after pregnancy, occasionally lasting long term. It’s this very condition that director John Lee toys with in his upcoming feature False Positive to make this film stand out from other pregnancy horror flicks.
Written by Lee and star Ilana Glazer (“Broad City”) and having just premiered at Tribeca, False Positive centers around a couple, Lucy (Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux), who are struggling to get pregnant. After Adrian uses his friendly connection to Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) to get her in to see the fertility genius, Lucy is finally successful in getting a bun in the oven. But that joy quickly turns to terror as Lucy finds herself beginning to distrust Dr. Hindle and Adrian, experiencing strange time lapses and horrific imagery that may or may not be hallucinations, which everyone else is attributing to “Mommy Brain”.
And that’s the crux of False Positive. It’s everyone else, mainly men, telling Lucy that everything is fine while putting the blame on her, when she knows that it most definitely is not fine, and screw anyone telling her otherwise.
Opening on a haunting shot of Lucy walking down the street, covered in blood, sirens approaching, Lee then takes us back in time to still trying to get pregnant Lucy and Adrian, aka, the happiest couple on the planet, missing just one thing in their life: a child. Adrian is a successful doctor, and Lucy is on her way to being promoted at her marketing firm, which is predominantly run by men. At first, Adrian seems like the perfect husband, calm, caring, and played with a soothing charm by Theroux. Glazer is utterly captivating in the role, portraying an endearing radiance and thrill at the idea of becoming a mother. Her joy is infectious, and when Dr. Hindle tells her she’s pregnant, you want to laugh and cry along with her.
Like any good horror film, Lee and Glazer set the pins up perfectly, which is what makes the terror that follows so painfully earthshattering.
It all starts with the men. False Positive doesn’t rewrite the book on baby horror, but what it does do is put more of an emphasis on the way in which men attempt to control women, especially when it comes to their pregnancy. Brosnan is overflowing with his classic charisma, and, like Lucy, we want to trust everything he’s saying, even as he’s telling her it’s all right after she experiences some shocking bleeding. That’s the major theme here: Men acting like they know Lucy’s body better than she does. If you’re like me and frustrated by the way in which Republicans try to control a woman’s body, get ready, because False Positive will make you furious and want to burn down the patriarchy right the hell now...as if most of us don't want to already.
False Positive is essentially gaslighting 101. Sexism runs rampant in this film. Lucy’s boss, Greg (Josh Hamilton) constantly says he has a “woman’s intuition thing”, while continuing to make Lucy take her co-workers orders—all men—despite her promotion. Adrian questions if Lucy’s making the right decisions regarding her body at every turn. And you’d better believe Lucy is referred to as “hysterical” at least once. “Letting them (men) make the decision for us? That’s what I call high risk” mentions midwife Grace (Zainab Jah) at one point, and damn if that isn’t the idea behind False Positive in a nutshell.
Where other pregnancy horror films have centered around supernatural forces or a woman’s own body as the enemy, such as in The Unborn—which False Positive does share a lot in common with—Lee’s film is more about the concept that was once a practice controlled by women in older times, with midwife’s managing a woman’s pregnancy and birth, and how it is now largely controlled by men, from the government to doctors and right down to the partners which a woman should be able to trust the most. Every situation that should feel safe, such as Lucy's doctor visits, instead have a sense of wrongness to them. This is a film that explores the invasiveness of men on a woman and her pregnancy, growing more and more uncomfortable as it goes on. Yes, men, it’s your baby too, but a woman always has the final say of what should go on with her body, and that’s the end of it.
The horror of False Positive comes less from the usual elements like monstrous tummy stretches and creepy kid dreams, and more from the living nightmare of Lucy’s own paranoia that she can’t escape. Lee’s film plays out like an extended fever dream, with Lucy experiencing time lapses or believing she overheard a conversation which she can’t be sure of, along with the occasional vision of blood—a lot of it—making for a psychological descent into paranoia that plants us right in the shoes of a woman who doesn’t know who to trust.
False Positive is filmed with a certain classical elegance, coupled with an enchanting score from Yair Elazar Glotman and Lucy Railton. It’s a powerful slow-burn that may not quite lean enough into outright horror for some audiences, and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers while stretching the plausibility of the premise throughout the many twists and turns—some of which you can see coming a mile away—but ultimately, False Positive is a disorienting mind fuck. Lee and Glazer have birthed a timely pregnancy horror film with a profound message that should resonate with anyone willing to give it a chance: Women, keep fighting to take back your bodies. They belong to you and only you.
False Positive arrives on Hulu June 25th.
By Matt Konopka