Sunday, July 11, 2021

On The Chopping Block: False Positive (2021)


My intrigue with False Positive was ignited almost immediately: While I can't remember when exactly I found out about this film (Wikipedia says it was announced in March 2019, but either time is illusive or I did not read about this film until much later), I do remember signing the hell up for it when I first read about it. Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux and Pierce Brosnan? In a "modern day Rosemary's Baby"? From A24, the studio behind some of my favorite movies of the last decade? Hell yeah! While I have seen many try to imitate or homage Rosemary's Baby to varying levels success, the talent lined up in front of the camera and the distributor had me hooked. I bided my time and, eventually, False Positive was delivered to Hulu two weeks ago. I went in mostly blind to what was going to come, and I stress mostly because while I avoided the trailers, I still saw gifs of certain scenes present in the trailer, including a certain moment involving Theroux and Brosnan.

And, having now finally watched it the previous night, I can confirm False Positive was mostly worth the wait!

First off, let's talk about the plot for a bit: So, it is definitely inspired by Rosemary's Baby as the film follows Lucia, or Lucy as she prefers to go by (Glazer), and her appropriately for this film-named husband Adrian (Theroux). They're desperate to have a baby after trying for two years to no avail. Adrian decides to reach out to his former mentor, Dr. John Hindle (Brosnan), for help, which Hindle is more than happy to oblige. After a few extremely uncomfortable sessions with the doctor, Lucy is finally pregnant and, obviously, she and Adrian are first. Their next appointment with Dr. Hindle reveals that Lucy is pregnant with three babies: Twin boys and a separate girl. Lucy, being deadset on having a daughter, insists on keeping the girl over the boys. After Adrian relents, Lucy gets a selective reduction surgery to terminate the boys for the girl, whom she names Wendy. And then, that's when things take a turn for the weirder and worse...

Truthfully, the plot of False Positive is one that's recognizable in hindsight, especially if you are familiar with the film's influences like Rosemary's Baby as well as the 1981 art house horror Possession. But, regardless, what is rewarding about this film is its commitment to embedding you in the same mindset as its protagonist via atmosphere and visuals. Many sequences lean into visual elements more typically associated with arthouse horror, with one example being the actual selective reduction surgery scene. The sequence washes the screen out with dark red, the blood shed by Lucy during the surgery, as the film overlaps the images of Lucy, herself, lying down with the images of Adrian and Dr. Hindle during the surgery and a cacophony of audio, including the film's superb score on top of a conversation between the two men that comes into play later on. Worth noting is that the film's cinematographer is Pawel Pogorzelski, who has worked on multiple horror films in the past, including Hereditary and Midsommar. Pogorzelski's work on those films can be felt in False Positive's aesthetic, as False Positive shares Midsommar's pastel color palette (albeit, not quite as bright) and has several scenes utilizing empty space akin to some of Hereditary's unsettling set pieces.

In terms of the acting, I think that Glazer proves she is more than capable of handling genres other than comedy. Although she dipped her toes into drama with her role on BoJack Horseman, Glazer goes for it here and is very often effective. When Lucy attends a gala that Dr. Hindle is being presented an award at, Glazer's facial acting conveys Lucy's thoughts spotlessly. Starting pleasant and then souring as Dr. Hindle rambles on, finally completely frowning when she hears the man bring up giving women their "fairy tale ending" as she realizes she overheard him and Adrian discussing giving Lucy her own happy ending during the procedure. Speaking of Adrian, I have to admit that I was not particularly enthralled with him as I was with the other two lead characters, but that's no fault of Theroux's. Theroux can do good work, even with small roles (I'll always remember him as the cowboy from Romy & Michele's High School), but Adrian ultimately doesn't have much to him besides being the sketchy husband that may or may not be conspiring against Lucy. However, the other main male, Brosnan, shines as the devious and narcissistic Dr. Hindle. With just the lubricating of a piece of medical equipment or a darkly hilarious reading of a line like "I humbly accept this award," Brosnan can either be completely slimy or disarmingly charming or both and he delivers. The supporting cast is also filled with good names, such as Josh Hamilton as Lucy's overlooking boss Greg, Gretchen Mol as Dr. Hindle's ride or die nurse Dawn and Sophia Bush as Lucy's new friend Corgan.

Where False Positive's main weakness lies is in its screenplay, particularly the reliance on dream sequences and imagery. While the use of dreamlike and surreal visuals is definitely a marker of its influences and can be effective, there are instances where they simply go nowhere. When we get to the scene of Adrian and Dr. Hindle getting frisky in a hotel, being watched by Lucy, it's an interesting plot twist...until it's just revealed to be a dream of Lucy's. There's an entire subplot revolving around Lucy's interest in a midwife named Grace (Zainab Jah) and her "primal" approach to midwifery that, when it's revealed that Lucy imagined the majority of Grace's persona, amounts to nothing except for making the protagonist unlikable by having her be racist towards a black woman. Most egregious is the film's ending, in which Lucy takes her spawn and is inferred to have tossed them out a window...until it's just another hallucination and she hands them off to Adrian and makes him leave. The idea of the film ending with Lucy murdering her offspring honestly would have been a genuinely shocking conclusion. Instead, director/co-screenwriter John Lee (and Glazer, who co-wrote on top of headlining the cast), choose to pull punches instead of giving this film the invigorating horrors it needs. While Lee and Glazer have spoken about wanting to connect the viewer with Lucy's state of mind, these scenes just feel thrown in for the sake of padding out the run time rather than aiding in that goal.

And yet, for everything False Positive does wrong, it does something else right for me. Despite the issues within the screenplay, there's still enough wonderfully crafted visuals that work, as well as a deliciously tense atmosphere and some truly wonderful performances (especially from Glazer and Brosnan). In False Positive, the positives outweigh the negatives and leave the viewer with one of the more memorable outings so far this year.

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