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Movie Review: 'False Positive' Asks Where Real Horror Lies


Today’s moviegoers are savvy enough that filmmakers have to know they’re going to pick up on similarities between new movies and what’s come out in years past. It’s certainly fine to tread familiar ground, this is mostly unavoidable, but a writer or director at least needs to be aware that people are going to recognize when you’re using or playing off an old idea.


This is particularly true for the enthusiastic and dedicated base of horror movie fans—If you’re going to echo Rosemary’s Baby, you can’t ignore that people are going to know. Sometimes this results in a movie that’s full of sharp irony, and sometimes it produces a movie like False Positive, which very much understands its relationship to earlier films, and counts on you understanding that, too, using it to direct your expectations while revealing a different kind of horror entirely.


False Positive is written by and stars Broad City’s Ilana Glazer as a woman who’s been trying to conceive a child for a few years. Her husband, played by Justin Theroux, is a surgeon who was trained by one of the world’s foremost fertility specialists, a full-bearded Pierce Brosnan, who we assume will be creepily sinister, but is instead remarkably comforting as he helps the couple with their difficulties. Too comforting? Yes, probably.


We know from the foreboding tone of the film that this will lead someplace we don’t expect, or maybe it will lead some place we do expect, as Glazer clearly knows we have indeed all seen Rosemary’s Baby. But she very much has other, real-world horrors on her mind, particularly those faced day-to-day by pregnant women, and she uses our suspicions about the supernatural to confront us with the frustratingly mundane. Well, until all hell breaks loose, which it does.


That this doesn’t all completely come together into a coherent whole thankfully doesn’t torpedo the film, and the implications of a confounding ending are almost unbearably sad. False Positive takes an approach we already know to show us something we ought to see, but don’t, and it forces us to consider where, exactly, real horror lies.


False Positive is out June 25 on Hulu.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.