When looking for something to watch a few weeks ago, the trailer for False Positive (2021) immediately caught my attention. First, because I’m a sucker for A24 films. Second, because the trailer reminded me very strongly of Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Watching False Positive was not a disappointing experience. The film is an interesting art-house horror flick. More importantly, however, False Positive is intriguing when considered as a work of speculative fiction about the evils of the medical-industrial complex and social pressures that women face.
Adrian (Justin Theroux) and Lucia “Lucy” Martin (Ilana Glazer) have been trying to conceive a child for two years. Upon receiving fertility treatment from Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), Adrian’s former teacher and a leading fertility doctor, the couple become pregnant with triplets: two boys and a girl. Dr. Hindle counsels the couple to abort either both of the boys or the girl in order to ensure a safe pregnancy with minimal complications. After making a difficult decision regarding which of the babies to keep, Lucy thinks the worst is behind her. As she nears her due date, however, Lucy wrestles with a growing sense of unease over her pregnancy and fears that both her husband and Dr. Hindle are keeping secrets from her. Lucy is haunted by strange dreams and vision, as well as gaslighting by Dr. Hindle, Adrian, and her female friend group. Nowhere seems safe for Lucy, until she turns to a Grace Singleton (Zainab Jah), a midwife who advocates for natural methods. In the end, the sinister truth about Dr. Hindle’s practice catches up to Lucy who decides to fight back.
What stood out to me most in this film and prompted me to watch it were the allusions to Rosemary’s Baby. The scene in which Lucy undergoes fertility treatment and dreams of the Devil is very similar to the scene of Rosemary’s (Mia Farrow) rape. The fact that Lucy’s husband is named Adrian and wants to name one of their children Adrian seems to be a reference to Adrian as the name of Rosemary’s son. Beyond these references, both films have the theme of a female protagonist who senses that she is the object of a conspiracy but doesn’t have the language to articulate her fears or the resources to which to turn to for help.
Unlike Rosemary’s Baby, False Positive has less to do with supernatural forces and more to do with the evil side of the medical-industrial complex. Dr. Hindle represents this dark force as a character who disguises his lust for profit and fame with the false motive of care for women. He is dismissive of women’s intuitions about their bodies and depersonalizes his patients. Dr. Hindle’s character strongly juxtaposes with that of Grace Singleton, the earthy and mystical midwife. Singleton listens to Lucy’s past trauma and concerns, offering a narrative of female empowerment and freedom from the humiliating subjugation of modern medicine. Unlike the sterile rooms and fake smiles that characterize Dr. Hindle’s practice, Singleton’s office is a calming place filled with candles and vaguely ethnic décor. Unfortunately for Lucy, Singleton’s mystique proves to be a misleading distraction that cannot protect her.
It is very important to me not to give away the ending of this film. Suffice to say, False Positive is a very good movie. Although it was disturbing to watch, it is an artistic film that is both thought-provoking and true to the cathartic nature of a good horror movie.