A woman covered in blood is walking down the street. The image and overwhelming score tells us that some shit has truly gone down. We’re then taken back to where it all began as the woman, Lucy (Ilana Glazer), and her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux) struggle to get pregnant. This is clearly an issue that’s been plaguing them for some time, which means they are delighted when they get in to see fertility specialist Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), an old teacher of Adrian’s. The moment that Lucy and Adrian step into Hindle’s office we can tell that things are off. The sterile environment is the opposite of welcoming, the nurses (including an underused Gretchen Mol) are all kitted out in outdated pink uniforms. Something isn’t quite right here, but Lucy is so overcome by the possibility of finally giving birth that she ignores the warning signs.
Unfortunately, it’s the first of many red flags that Lucy looks right past, yet the audience can’t ignore, in this frustrating psychological horror from John Lee. The director of Pee-wee’s Big Holiday and several episodes of Broad City, among other series, Lee is looking to be the latest comedic filmmaker to make the jump into horror territory here, joined by Glazer as his co-writer on the project. The transition has proven too difficult for them on their first venture, as there isn’t a single note in False Positive that feels convincing. From the word go, that “off” feeling that the audience is supposed to experience takes a step further off the screen into something that becomes artificial from a filmmaking standpoint. The beats never land, the moments that are supposed to chill instead fall flat, and it leads to a story where there’s never a way in for the viewer.
Glazer is miscast in the role of Lucy, a character thrust into the gaslighted hellscape of control at the hands of the patriarchal society around her. Whether it’s Adrian at home or her all male co-workers (including Josh Hamilton as her gay boss who constantly implies that he’s “basically a woman” because he’s gay) at the office, Lucy is surrounded by men trying to control her in one way or another. False Positive is a film with a lot of detail, but so many of those elements seem like they’re hammering in a point that was already made within the first few minutes, and nothing ever gets deeper beyond those surface level observations about how this society treats women.
Walking into Hindle’s office gives off the feeling of stepping into a Twilight Zone episode, but that promises something far more insightful and intriguing than what we’re offered here. Instead, what we get is one scene after another beating in the same register without offering anything new to the table. When you’re hitting so many of the same notes that another film you’re clearly indebted to hit much better 50 years earlier, you’re putting yourself in a tough position.
The film knowingly winks at its reference points, the largest quite clearly being Rosemary’s Baby, yet it’s so indebted to those influences that it can never make a voice for itself. The combination of its lack of originality with its absence of nuance results in a narrative that’s woefully predictable. This is particularly difficult to endure when the second half seems to want us to be shocked and awed by its many “twists” that throw Lucy for a loop even though the audience saw them coming an hour prior.
If there’s one bright point here, it would be the wonderful casting of Brosnan as the smarmy, egotistical doctor whose true intentions are clear from the moment we meet him. While some of the actors struggle with how seriously they’re investing into their roles, Brosnan is playing it up to the rafters and he’s the one element of False Positive that sparks any life. Otherwise, this is a largely regrettable misfire that feels more often than not like a script letting down a talented group of actors who are generally much better than this. There’s only so much they can do with material as inert as what they have here, however. False Positive simply can’t get off the ground.