Combining elements of Rosemary’s Baby and Dead Ringers, John Lee’s False Positive casts a dark shadow over the idea of expectant motherhood, with a solid performance by Ilana Glazer leading the way.
Glazer stars as Lucy Martin, who is happily married to Adrian (Justin Theroux) and who want to have a baby, despite unsuccessful attempts for two years. They seek out fertility specialist John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), who also is a long-time friend of Adrian’s. Using Hindle’s specialized technique, Lucy becomes pregnant.
During an ultrasound, Lucy is pregnant with triplets; twin boys and a girl. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the pregnancy, Dr. Hindle suggests selective reduction. Against the suggestion of Hindle and Adrian, Lucy decides to keep the single girl. Following the procedure, Lucy becomes wary of Hindle, believing him to have nefarious means.
The film is going for some big themes and ideas around every corner. There are times when Lucy seems to be gaslit, while others she genuinely seems to have psychosis. By the end of the film, there is no clear answer which one was true. Every piece of evidence that Lucy brings forth against Hindle can be simultaneously explained and be seen as the smoking gun. There are much more questions than answers as the credits roll.
Glazer anchors the film with a steadily confident performance. Her and Lee’s comfort with each other is apparent as she buoys from concern to incredulity to numb happiness. Theroux reflects well off her characterization, barely raising his voice above a whisper.; His steady presence is a welcome counterpoint to Glazer’s swaying temperament.
Brosnan echoes Theroux’s calm, and maintains a level of discomfort while never coming across as blatantly evil. Once the film concludes, it is never fully clear who has been pulling the strings or what really has been going on. The three stars, along with great supporting work from Gretchen Mol and Sophia Bush, ground the film that could have otherwise gotten away from them.
That doesn’t mean that everything works. The script takes a few swings for dark comedy that never really land. Additionally, the middle third of the film drags. Lucy gets pregnant very quickly, while her actual pregnancy inconsistently progresses until she is ready to deliver out of nowhere. The film also approaches themes of cultural prejudices, gender politics and workplace pecking orders, all to varying degrees of success. Lee and Glazer seem to be trying a bit too much.
Visually, the film comes across strikingly, with strong cinematography and unsettling camera work to add to the dread. The art direction is also top notch with Lucy’s apartment, Dr. Hindle’s office and Lucy’s job all coming across as uncomfortably modern. The score underscores the potential terror and the uneven state of Lucy’s mind.
The film is nothing if not memorable, but the intended impact is reduced to little more than a few gasps. I admire Glazer and Lee for trying something they are not known for, but I just wished it had worked better.