In February of 1975, audiences everywhere were introduced to the horror of The Stepford Wives. It was a horror of expectations, the expectations a patriarchal society puts on a woman to become a “perfect wife.” At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, John Lee’s pregnancy thriller False Positive made for what could be a kind of double feature with Stepford, but rather than focus on what society expects a wife to be, False Positive is all about what’s expected of mothers. The film did swap out 70s science fiction for indie film surrealism, but fans of The Stepford Wives will definitely get a very similar feeling while watching False Positive. The story is fictional, the horror is anything but.
False Positive is the story of Lucy Martin, a successful copywriter living in Manhattan. Lucy and her partner Adrian are trying to get pregnant, but so far, their efforts have failed. In a last ditch effort to have a child, Adrian contacts an old associate of his, Dr. John Hindle. Proclaimed by many to be an expert in fertility, Hindle takes on Lucy’s case. And in a short amount of time, Lucy is ecstatic to find out she’s pregnant. However, her joy is short-lived. There is something not right about this strange Dr. Hindle, and as the pregnancy gets more complicated and Adrian becomes more controlling, Lucy realizes that the situation she’s in is nowhere near the one she wanted.
Leading the film as Lucy is Ilana Glazer, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Known for her work on the New York comedy Broad City, Glazer does a terrific job portraying a woman who’s being gaslit by the people she trusts. As strangeness piles into her life, Lucy goes to increasingly desperate lengths to discover the truth behind it all, and Glazer’s performance will have you on the edge of your seat. You spend the film wondering when her rage and confusion will boil over, and when it finally does, Glazer pulls it off spectacularly.
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Equally impressive is Pierce Brosnan as the unsettling Dr. Hindle. Though the character will eventually fully creep you out, Brosnan gives us a kind of slow-burn performance, coming off as charming at first and then gradually sprinkling in hints at his true evil. Credit is due to casting directors Rebecca Dealy and Jessica Kelly for putting the former James Bond in the role, luring the audience in with his silver fox looks and refined, modern manners, only to shock them with the monster underneath.
And speaking of shocking, the visuals of False Positive are incredibly effective in bringing terror to the audience. From the sterile dread of a florescent-lit fertility lab to the bloody visions Lucy has as her fears start coming true, the imagery of False Positive is sure to disturb and stay with you. However, while those bloody visions work great to bring out the viewer’s emotions, they also have a confusing effect on the story.
There are some cinematically great dream sequences and nightmare visions in False Positive. Entrancing as they may be, however, they tend to mess with the storytelling structure. For example, there is, at one point, a surprise encounter between Hindle and Adrian, but Lucy wakes up shortly after she sees it happen. Did she really see Adrian and Hindle‘s encounter, or did she dream the whole thing up? Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that the encounter would change the dynamic between the two men, and it left me wondering if it somehow had to do with the mystery of what was going on at Hindle‘s fertility lab. When I didn’t get an answer to that, I was left feeling unsatisfied.
“[…] the visuals of False Positive are incredibly effective in bringing terror to the audience.”
But just because False Positive veers off-track a few times does not mean it doesn’t reach where it set out to go. Similar to The Stepford Wives, the film is a critique of a patriarchal society ruling over women’s bodies, and in that regard, it does succeed. Fans of socially conscious horrors like Get Out will definitely respect what the film is doing, and I imagine it will inspire more than a few excellent think pieces. False Positive is out now in theaters and is streaming on Hulu.
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