It may sound crass, but pregnant women make for great horror movie fodder. You take women, who so often act as the subjects of endless abuse in the horror genre already, and you put them in the most vulnerable physical state possible. Then, you attribute anything strange or ominous happening around them to their raging hormones or “mommy brain.” It’s literally the perfect scenario to create a horror film. As a result, it’s now been done and redone and overdone a million different ways, but it all more or less began with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Unfortunately, John Lee’s False Positive (2021) doesn’t add anything new to the subgenre, and it makes itself even less effective as a horror film by getting lost in its own mixed messages.
I will fully admit that I only watched False Positive because I saw that it featured Ilana Glazer, whom I had previously only known for working on Broad City. Honestly, I was curious to see how she would do outside of her quirky, woke, NYC comedy environment. Glazer also co-wrote the script, so some of her signature wokeness and comedy still shines through, but at the end of the day, she proved that she can do more than one character. She is clearly an actress with range, even though her screenwriting skills might be better suited for comedy.
In any case, the film stars Ilana Glazer as Lucy, a writer who lives in NYC (of course) with her husband, Adrian (Justin Theroux). The couple has struggled with various miscarriages, so they seek out the help of Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). He promises that he can deliver results for them, and he lives up to this promise. Within weeks, Lucy has not one, but three fetuses (two boys and a girl) growing inside of her. Unfortunately, the health of all babies is at stake, which prompts Dr. Hindle to recommend a selective reduction, in which either the twin boys or the girl will be terminated to save the other. In the end, Lucy and Adrian decide to sacrifice the boys in order to keep the girl.
As the story progresses, Lucy becomes increasingly untrusting of Dr. Hindle and many of the people around her, including Adrian. Like most pregnancy horror films, False Positive moves into very familiar territory rather quickly. Everyone tries to convince Lucy that she is just experiencing “mommy brain,” which makes them seem all the more suspicious. However, the film ultimately trips itself up by making it seem as though Lucy might have had, to one degree or another, “mommy brain.” Without giving too much away, I will say that the ugly, albeit not-so-shocking truth is revealed in the end, but many questions still remain.
Various elements of the story are left ambiguous, particularly regarding Lucy’s frequent hallucinations. Perhaps it was the medication that she was taking? But even after she stops the medication, the hallucinations continue. Is Lucy the center of a conspiracy to rob her of agency over her own body or is she just a little bit crazy? I guess the filmmakers couldn’t decide which way to go, so they just decided to do a little of both.
If you’re looking for an explanation of the False Positive movie ending, there is none. The script continues to use Lucy’s hallucinations at the service of the woke message. Without giving away too much, I will say that Lucy does eventually find her strength and get revenge on those that have been gaslighting her. But as great as it all sounds on paper, it doesn’t make for a very good conclusion.
The final scene leaves us with more questions than answers. Did all of the preceding events drive Lucy insane? Were the filmmakers just trying to send a progressive message about the power and perseverance of women in the face of misogyny? Is it a woke visual metaphor? Or did they just feel like dabbling in a bit of magical realism? Who knows. But the fact remains that False Positive‘s ending just doesn’t fit well with the rest of the film. At the same time, the film as a whole does nothing to distinguish itself from any number of pregnancy horror films that came before it.
False Positive (2021) Movie Rating: ★★ out of 5
If you’d like to watch False Positive (2021), it is currently available to stream on Hulu. For more film reviews like this one, be sure to check out the Philosophy in Film homepage!
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