In recent years, there’s been a remarkable rise in the number of comedians who have given horror storytelling a shot. From Jordan Peele’s piercing – and petrifying – dissection of American racial politics in 2017’s Get Out to the cutting critique of police corruption in this year’s Chris Rock-led Saw sequel Spiral, many actors formerly associated with hilarity have started to find success when dabbling in darker fare, investigating social issues through a genre lens and striking at sharper truths than those who play this subject matter straight in your average indie drama. In the wake of Get Out’s sudden and surprising success, this phenomenon seemed like a fluke that was singular to Jordan Peele, but with comedy stars like David Gordon Green of Halloween and John Krasinski of A Quiet Place getting in on the action as well, it feels safe to say that the trend of our funniest performers flirting with fright-filled films is here to stay. And now, Broad City’s Ilana Glazer is set to show that she too can juggle these genres just as well as her male counterparts by writing and starring in Hulu’s horrifying False Positive – a modern-day riff on Rosemary’s Baby that highlights the contemporary horrors women weather today with glorious (and gory) gusto.
After several failed pregnancy attempts, Lucy (Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) Martin have all but given up on their dream of starting a family, feeling that they’ve exhausted almost every available option of assistance at their disposal. Fortunately, Adrian has one more ace up his sleeve; renowned fertility specialist Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan) was his former college professor when he was in school training to be a surgeon, and after a quick call, the two are able to avoid the years-long waiting list and land an appointment with the distinguished doctor. Upon meeting Hindle, the man is a dream – he says all the right things, he has an answer to every question, and his staff can’t stop gushing about his foolproof procedures. To Lucy, it all seems a little too perfect, but Adrian is over-the-moon with his excitement and urges her to relax and trust the process. Resistant to rock the boat, Lucy relents, and she goes through with Hindle’s innovative artificial insemination techniques, which miraculously do allow her to finally become pregnant with a healthy baby girl. Unfortunately, Lucy still can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Hindle than meets the eye, and sure enough, she’ll soon find out that his practices aren’t as “pure” as they seem.
Above all else, False Positive is instantly commendable for its incisive insight into the female experience, thanks not only to Glazer’s committed and captivating performance in the lead role but also to her scathing, sharp-tongued screenplay, which takes no prisoners as it confronts topics like gaslighting and gender roles head-on. Glazer, who co-wrote the film’s script with director John Lee, is absolutely essential to False Positive’s thematic achievements, as occurrences in her own life seem to largely inspire the interactions Lucy has with other characters. The specificity in the dialogue between Lucy and Adrian or Lucy and Dr. Hindle when she tries to voice her concerns about her pregnancy and is subsequently shut down is so pointed and precise that it could’ve only come from someone who’s been on the receiving end of such slights, and that spotlights the significance of letting individuals of underrepresented communities tell their own stories – in any medium or any genre – as only they can sincerely strike at the truth in these contentious conversations.
Glazer and Lee subtly mediate on subject matter surrounding the use (and abuse) of women’s bodies for male gain and contemplate questions of consent so smoothly that you’ll only notice the holistic substance of the statements they’re making as the movie reaches its riotous climax, when all becomes clear and this twisted tale of gestational treachery is wholly unwound. The tightrope act the two pull off here thematically is nothing short of spectacular, as they are able to both stage a staggeringly suspenseful horror film and author a work of art that interrogates modern gender issues without sacrificing either ambition over the course of False Positive’s 92-minute runtime. If Glazer and Lee lost sight of the genre thrills, they’d risk making a glorified TED Talk, while if they left out their social observations, they’d abandon what made their story special in the first place. Thankfully, the two achieve a brilliant balance, and the film is able to satisfy its audience creatively and culturally.
Glazer’s aforementioned powerhouse performance anchors the entire affair in authenticity – especially as the plot wades into wilder waters – and it’s her unwavering devotion to the film’s darker twists and turns that warrants our equally ardent allegiance to the anarchy unfolding before our eyes. Theroux is convincingly crafty as Adrian, duping audiences as often as he does Lucy, but Brosnan is the true supporting male standout, masterfully manipulating our emotions as the enigmatic yet enticing Dr. Hindle and turning in some of his most winning work in years. Hindle’s ego is expertly calibrated by Brosnan, who rides the line between confidence and causticity with accomplished accuracy, constantly causing us to reassess our perception of this physician. With smaller screen time, Sophia Bush also leaves a lasting impression as Lucy’s similarly pregnant friend Corgan, who eschews expectations of her seemingly stereotypical “sidekick” part and plays a crucial role in the film’s conclusion.
On the surface, False Positive may look like a Rosemary’s Baby redux, but Ilana Glazer and John Lee are too smart to deliver a simple and straightforward rehash of that horror classic, instead contextualizing that story’s set-up for the modern age with audacious ardor. As Pawel Pogorzelski’s consuming cinematography and Yair Elazar Glotman and Lucy Railton’s sinister score contribute to the cultivation of a classic thriller atmosphere, Glazer and Lee supplement this setting with their scintillating screenplay, injecting what could’ve been a bargain bin fright fest with ferocity and feeling and birthing an utterly unique and unforgettable artistic being into the world. In the end, their False Positive may be a wild ride, but it’s one worth taking, without a doubt.
False Positive will be available on Hulu this Friday, June 25.
Photo: Anna Kooris/Hulu