[Tribeca Review] A24’s ‘False Positive’ Is a Genre-Bending Conversation Starter

Horror

Rosemary’s Baby effectively tackled the horrors of pregnancy and established its tropes so well that it’s difficult to avoid drawing comparisons in subsequent horror movies centered around the subject. The premise and initial establishing sequences suggest that False Positive would offer another modernized retelling of sorts, right down to the isolating mistrust. Yet co-writers John Lee and Ilana Glazer take a hard left turn into something else so provocative, abstract, and ambitious that it’s destined to become a conversation starter.

Lucy (Ilana Glazer) adores her husband, Adrian (Justin Theroux), and their life together. She’s moving up the ladder in her career, too, getting assigned vital projects as a sign of confidence from her superiors. The only hitch to her rosy life is that Lucy has struggled for the past two years to get pregnant, despite the efforts she’s poured into the attempt. Adrian lands them a highly coveted appointment with the world-renowned reproductive specialist Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) through his connection. Dr. Hindle earns his reputation, granting the couple their greatest wish. Still, there’s something very off about the practice’s poise and perfection, and unexpected decisions that stem from Lucy’s pregnancy. Soon, the cracks in normalcy breed suspicion and paranoia, threatening to snap Lucy’s grip on reality.

For a while, director John Lee follows the familiar narrative beats. Lucy channels Rosemary as the supportive, doting wife that’s eager to please everyone around her, right down to ordering the same lunch as her supervisor. Even the accustomed notes of gaslighting come into play, especially the more Dr. Hindle downplays alarming side effects from Lucy’s pregnancy. The more people ignore Lucy’s concerns, the more detached she grows. Strangely grotesque hallucinations plague her; time gaps and shifts in memory transform domestic bliss into a mind-bending nightmare.

The title couldn’t be more apt; a false positive refers to a positive test result for pregnancy when the tester isn’t pregnant. False Positive positions itself as a pregnancy horror movie when it’s not exactly. Lee and Glazer are merely using a biological function synonymous with womanhood as a baseline to tackle the broader experience of femininity, from intersectional feminism to societal norms. All of it ambitiously deconstructed then blended in a Molotov cocktail of abstract metaphors.

Lucy’s journey gets wild and unpredictable, with Lee and Glazer tackling everything from specific headlines to broader cultural perceptions. Evocative imagery and bloody violence carry the emotion here, from fear to full-throttled rage. Dry humor keeps the tone off-beat, courtesy of Gretchen Mol as Dr. Hindle’s head nurse. Mol unforgettably nails the campy performance with sinister underpinnings. Glazer successfully pulls off the challenging task of putting Lucy through the emotional wringer and making an internal battle with identity an external one.

False Positive begins as a genre-bending tale about the perils of parenting, then flips that on its head entirely to unleash pent-up rage. The result is an overly ambitious and often jaw-dropping experience that’s all but guaranteed to be divisive. Lee and Glazer ensure Lucy’s idiosyncratic journey is provocative, delivering scathing commentary without ever letting its lead off the hook for her flaws. The drastic tonal shifts can induce whiplash. It’s the type of audacious feature that leaves you unsure of what you’re watching but unable to get it out of your head long after the credits roll.

False Positive made its world premiere at Tribeca and releases June 25 on Hulu.

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