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‘False Positive’ a derivative delivery

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Baby horror has long been a vital subgenre beneath the horror umbrella. The possibilities that come with the fundamental mysteries of pregnancy and giving birth are myriad. You can do demonic possession or supernatural rituals or weird science, all with a body horror underpinning that comes part and parcel with the whole situation.

Of course, these movies aren’t always good.

Take “False Positive,” newly streaming on Hulu. I had high hopes for this one, honestly. Ilana Glazer stars and co-wrote the script with director John Lee. Both of them have some legitimately weird credits to their name. Throw in Justin Theroux and Pierce Brosnan as co-stars and you’ve got my attention.

Unfortunately, while the film starts with some real promise, it never quite gets to where we want it to be. Instead, it devolves into a muddled mishmash of dream sequences and “What is real?” psychodrama that never finds its footing after the strong start. Too many decisions make little or no sense; there’s never any sense behind why people are behaving the way that they are. We’re left with a confusing and ultimately unsatisfying film that never quite decides what it wants to be. Again, there are moments of strength, but not nearly enough of them.

Lucy (Glazer) and her husband Adrian (Theroux) have been trying to conceive for quite some time. After years of frustration, the two finally decide to consult with a specialist. As it turns out, Adrian’s old med school professor Dr. John Hindle (Brosnan) is one of the world’s foremost fertility doctors, with a celebrated clinic that sports a years-long waiting list.

Dr. Hindle quickly ascertains some possible solutions to the couple’s issues. Before you know it, he has offered up his own special and secret method to help make a pregnancy happen. And suddenly, just like that, it works – Lucy is pregnant, to the delight of both her and husband.

However, it isn’t long before Lucy starts to have some misgivings about the whole process. She’s uncomfortable with the dynamic between her husband and his old mentor. Dr. Hindle’s staff – particularly lead nurse Dawn (Gretchen Mol, TV’s “Perry Mason”) – makes her uncomfortable. Her boss Greg (Josh Hamilton, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things”) is sending her mixed messages. She’s not sure what to make of the various mommy friends that she’s been making. And the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy leave her with some difficult choices – choices that may or may not be what she truly wants.

All this, plus Lucy starts to find herself seeing and hearing things that may not be real, nightmarish images that involve people close to her as well as the fate of her unborn child. Can these hallucinatory moments be chalked up to the extremity of her pregnancy? Or is there something much darker afoot?

“False Positive” is, to be blunt, a bit of a mess. There’s an inconsistency throughout that makes it extremely difficult to fully invest in the proceedings, even when you leave aside how unfortunately derivative it feels in spots. Now, there are some bits that absolutely do work, but they’re surrounded by extended stretches that simply don’t make much sense. And yes, I understand that this is likely a deliberate effort to capture the chaotic and fractured mindset of the panicked expectant mother, but still – a little narrative and tonal coherence goes a long way.

The film works best when it leans into the body horror; it’s clear that this is an area that Lee and Glazer both find fascinating. That’s when we get glimpses of what this movie could have been, something unsettling and powerful and weird. Alas, we’re always dropped back into a quasi-generic thriller that uses Lucy’s questionable mental state as a crutch – they go to the hallucinatory well a few too many times, relying on her unreliability.

All that being said, there are some striking visual moments in the film. Not as many as there perhaps could or should be, but they’re there. Some of the aesthetic impact is lost due to the overabundance of tight close-ups on Glazer’s face; she’s a talented actress, but Lee didn’t do her any favors by repeatedly focusing on her face. Again, I understand the motivations behind the choice, but it simply didn’t work as intended.

Let me be clear: “False Positive” has high aspirations. And it genuinely tries to reach those heights. It just can’t quite get there, despite its best efforts. There are too many mismatched edges and inconsistencies; there’s a sense of jaggedness to the film that undermines the slick scares it seems to want to produce, even as you’re constantly stuck with a feeling of having seen it all before.

The performances are solid, about what you’d expect from a bunch of real pros. Glazer’s good, even when what she’s saying or doing doesn’t make a ton of sense. Theroux is the same – he has a weird knack for eliciting empathetic responses to off-putting people and he wields it here. Brosnan is a total creepster, big and broad with a whiff of ham – kind of fun to watch, truth be told. The rest of the cast feels vaguely overqualified – Hamilton and especially Mol foremost among them; they’re both good here without getting as much room to run.

“False Positive” is a movie that knew where it wanted to be but didn’t make the right choices to get there. Maybe that sense of disconnect is produced with intent, a deliberate decision, but it didn’t click. Not for me, at any rate. It is convoluted and occasionally confusing, though there are some decent performances.

In the end, “False Positive” simply doesn’t deliver.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 28 June 2021 08:05

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