False Positive

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Films, like False Positive, that are about a woman getting pregnant and finding herself pressured by her husband, her doctor and her peers into pursuing a particular course of action are always going to be compared to Rosemary’s Baby. There are no satanists in director/co-writer John Lee’s film but he’s largely happy for his film to face that ordeal. Brave man.

We meet nice loving couple Adrian (Justin Theroux) and Lucy (Ilana Glazer). He’s a doctor, she’s in marketing and they can’t get pregnant. So they head to a clinic run by an old mentor of Adrian, Doctor Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), a kindly, authoritative fertility expert who runs a modern, bright, smart facility. It’s staffed by Nurses Wendy (Gretchen Mol) and Rita (Sabina Gadecki), who wear reassuring, starchy uniforms, smile welcomingly and specialise in concerned head tilts which on their own are enough to convince us that something’s not right. This is a Shudder film, so we should know that already.

In case we didn’t get it, Lee chucks us a few more pieces of meat. The way Dr Hindle lubes up that speculum in masturbatory fashion before peering into Lucy’s innards. The fact that Adrian watches torture porn to help him produce a sample of sperm. Dr Hindle moaning ever so quietly as he pumps Adrian’s ejaculate into Lucy. And the amount of it – a football team’s worth!

Anyway, Lucy gets pregnant. There are complications and Lucy finds herself being pressured by both the kindly doctor, his lovely nurses, her concerned husband and her newly acquired galpal gang from the ante-natal group into doing things she doesn’t necessarily want to do. No more need be said.

Creepiness stacks up. Adrian keeps using the formulation “we’re pregnant” when he most certainly isn’t. Lucy’s trio of workmates at the marketing company where she’s just pulled in her first big contract also seem almost unbearably on board with the pregnancy thing. (They also all seem to be vegan, but maybe that’s just a Hollywood thing.)

Pierce Brosnan as Dr Hindle
Dr Hindle at the business end

In spite of the warning signs, Lucy plugs blithely on. “Am I going to be one of those women who has it all,” she trills aloud at one point. To which any non-sleeping viewer is obviously going to shout, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

If it’s all fairly familiar, it is all done rather well – Theroux makes a good creep, Glazer has decided to go all-in as Lucy, Brosnan can do this sort of thing in his sleep, and Mol and Gadecki (both underused) do what they need to do to keep the show moving. The smiling is a bit overmuch though, all the same.

If you’re wondering around the halfway point whether it’s turning into a coded tale about white privilege – yummily entitled Adrian and Lucy, blonde Nurses Wendy and Rita, a clinic that’s white throughout except for one spooky brown door marked “Lab” – that suspicion gains ground with the arrival of Grace Singleton (Zainab Jah), a black natural childbirth expert billed as the “midwife with soul” on a glossy magazine Lucy picks up at the clinic.

Lee also takes time here to dig out some archive footage of old white male gynaecologists of yore subjecting the “unruly creature” of the female womb to rigorous, scientifically endorsed torture masquerading as clinical intervention.

This digression pitting the “magical negress” (as Grace mockingly describes herself) against the white men of science is refreshing and temporarily releases False Positive from the shackles of Rosemary’s Baby, before Lee digresses again, for an all-out grand guignol finale of “there will be blood” revenge-taking.

The deviations to the formula come a touch too late and there aren’t quite enough of them, but the finish is a good one, with a particularly effective Glazer reaching for her inner banshee as Lucy takes decisive action against everyone who has come between her and her offspring. Rosemary’s Babymother.

© Steve Morrissey 2021

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