The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Review - FALSE POSITIVE | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Review - FALSE POSITIVE

false positive review
A woman begins to suspect her fertility doctor may not be all that he seems.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Lee

Starring: Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan, Gretchen Mol, Sophia Bush

false positive poster

Following the lead of Jordan Peele, Ilana Glazer is the latest comic to make the transition from a successful TV comedy (Broad City) to a politically charged horror movie. Yet while Peele peppered his horror movies with humour, Glazer and co-writer John Lee, who also directs, play their genre debut with a straight face. I'm not familiar with the duo's comic work, but if False Positive is any indication, they have a lot to learn about how to craft an effective horror movie.

Glazer takes the lead role of Lucy, who along with hubby Adrian (Justin Theroux) has been struggling to get pregnant. It's not what you know, it's who you know, and Adrian pulls some strings to get his wife an appointment with award-winning fertility expert Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), his old college professor.

false positive review

Hindle works his magic and soon Lucy finds herself up the junction. Not only that but she's carrying twin boys and a separate girl. Trouble is, Hindle determines it will be impossible for Lucy to give birth to all three successfully, and so she's faced with a Sophie's Choice – abort either the two boys or the girl. Ignoring the pleas to the contrary from Hindle and Adrian, opts to keep the girl, even going so far as to name her Wendy. But as the weeks roll on, Lucy begins to suspect all is not right with the mysterious Dr. Hindle.

False Positive has the sort of setup that might have fuelled a successful 1970s ABC Movie of the Week, and with a complete absence of blood until its climax, it could almost slot into a prime time schedule. With Glazer, Theroux, Brosnan and Gretchen Mol (channeling Louise Fletcher as Hindle's overly familiar assistant) all doing good work here, the movie gets by on the charms of its cast. Until, that is, the meat of the plot kicks in.

While the audience is suspicious of Hindle for the simple reason that we're fully aware that we're watching a horror movie and therefore he must be a wrong 'un, there's no reason established as to why Lucy would develop suspicions about his motivations. She seems to be going along with his guidance until she witnesses him deliver a speech at an awards ceremony in which he talks about how science is under threat from internet misinformation and alternative practices. Well, he's not wrong is he? Yet for some reason this speech makes Lucy question the man she's put in control of her destiny.

false positive review

Turning away from science, Lucy employs the services of Grace Singleton (Zainab Jah), an African midwife who advises her clients to stay away from traditional doctors. "Do you think a doctor knows a woman's body better than she knows it herself?" she asks. Well, yes, a doctor does indeed know a woman's body better than any woman who isn't herself a doctor. That's literally their job! It's what they've spent seven years studying for!

I'm not sure what Glazer and Lee are trying to say here, but False Positive has a subtext that's a curious mix of feminist and anti-vax propaganda. Midway through the film we're greeted to an illustrative montage and an accompanying lecture that tells us about various historical horrors visited upon women's bodies by men in the medical field. The message seems to be that doctors and scientists shouldn't be trusted by women because of the history of male dominance in the field. Well, that's just great. It's bad enough that conservatives no longer believe in science, but now an ignorance of science and a mistrust of doctors is woke?

Let's just say you share the film's bizarre mentality in this regard – it still doesn't work as a horror movie. Glazer and Lee structure their film in an ass over elbow manner that doesn't so much keep us guessing as keep us in a state of confusion. Lucy's suspicions peak not when she uncovers some evidence but when she has a dream in which she sees Hindle and her husband conspiring together. Wait, what? From this point on, we find ourselves questioning whether everything Lucy subsequently experiences is also playing out in her mind, but no, that's not the case. There are moments – like Adrian disappearing into the shadows to investigate a noise – that feel like they're thrown in just to remind the audience that we're watching a horror movie, but they don’t actually amount to anything and are never referenced at any later point.

false positive review

Had Lee and Glazer filled us in on just what their heroine is being subjected to here, it would have made for a far more suspenseful experience. Instead we're left to blindly follow Lucy as she tries to figure things out, but when the movie pulls a cheat as crude as having her learn the truth in a fucking dream, any faith that we were in the hands of competent storytellers quickly erodes.

Things reach a peak of ridiculousness with a revelation that requires us to believe that a rich doctor who looks like Pierce Brosnan would have trouble getting laid. To deploy a phrase used throughout the film, trying to make sense of False Positive will give you a bad case of 'Mommy Brain'.

False Positive premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It will be released on Hulu in the US on June 25th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews