Review: Glazer dips into horror on Hulu
Actor and writer Ilana Glazer is best known for her bubbly, absurdist comedic work, especially on her dearly departed Comedy Central show, “Broad City.” But for her first leading film role and feature screenwriting debut, Glazer takes a hard left.
“False Positive,” co-written by Glazer and “Broad City” director John Lee, and directed by Lee, is a pregnancy horror film that may as well be called “Rosemary’s Revenge,” in its similarities (and notable differences) to “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Following in the footsteps of Jordan Peele, Lee and Glazer swerve from comedy to horror, using the genre as a vehicle for social commentary about modern motherhood, misogyny and manipulation. “False Positive” is Glazer’s “Get Out,” which is a phrase you want to scream at her character, Lucy, over and over again.
Big ambitions: Lucy is a young woman married to an older man, Adrian (Justin Theroux). She’s got big ambitions: a promotion at work, and they’re trying for a baby too. “Maybe I can have it all,” she speculates. But becoming pregnant proves challenging, so Lucy and Adrian consult a fertility specialist who happens to be Adrian’s friend and former teacher, Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan).
Dr. Hindle’s office is staffed by crisp nurses outfitted in candy striper via Stepford uniforms; Dawn (Gretchen Mol) oozes politesse though she has all the charm of Nurse Ratched Barbie. It’s a cold, sterile and imposing place, where the procedures Lucy undergoes in order to become pregnant leave her feeling disembodied, literally, figuratively and symbolically on screen.
Her pregnancy is one of whispers and gaslighting, and she yearns for a more connected, cosmic and spiritual experience, since she already feels so emotionally connected to the daughter, Wendy, she assumes she will have.
Lucy is as isolated and afraid as Rosemary Woodhouse, alone in New York City, surrounded only by men and hostile, ingratiating and untrustworthy women.
The look: Lee uses Pawel Pogorzelski, the cinematographer who also shot Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” to visualize Lucy’s plight and her increasingly nightmarish experience of pregnancy. Pogorzelski’s photography drains the life and color from Dr. Hindle’s facility as well as Lucy and Adrian’s stark, modern apartment. Mirrors underline the characters’ double natures, and pitch-black darkness encroaches on their domestic tranquility.
Lucy herself is often shot upside down, as she enters a confusing and terrifying underworld as a pregnant person. With Yair Elazar Glotman and Lucy Railton’s score of percussive strings and women’s voices, the horror aesthetic is tightly controlled, yet menacingly oppressive, until it explodes.
Surreal: The climactic explosion is a combustion of female intuition, rage and deep sorrow; it provides catharsis, the kind that was previously denied to characters like Rosemary. However, it’s also where “False Positive” loses its tight grip on the story. Things become surreal and hallucinatory as Lucy loses grip with reality in order to come to terms with the truth.
But a rushed ending leaves loose ends frayed around the edges, and reveals dastardly secrets that are frustratingly predictable. Lucy’s rageful reaction is clumsy and brutish.
For all the tightly wound tension that Lee extracts from the first three-quarters of the film, you expect something more evil, perhaps even supernatural to unfold. The foundation is there to take it to even darker places, but perhaps the point of “False Positive” is that we cannot become inured to those all too plausible villains who walk and work, and are applauded, among us. They deserve our full-throated rage and bloodlust too.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
Cast: Ilana Glazer, Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan, Gretchen Mol, Sophia Bush, Zainab Jah
Directed by John Lee
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Rated: R (for disturbing/bloody images, sexual content, graphic nudity and language)
Playing: Streaming Friday on Hulu