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To show how men gaslight women, Ilana Glazer’s pregnancy horror movie gaslights the audience

Spoiler alert for the movie “False Positive.”

Pregnancy doesn’t need much embellishment to be fodder for a horror movie, what with morning sickness and ricocheting hormones, not to mention a parasitic life form feeding from you. And that’s all before you give birth.

This is probably why pregnancy has inspired several horror flicks — most famously, “Rosemary’s Baby” and now, from Ilana Glazer of “Broad City” fame, “False Positive,” now streaming on Hulu, which she both wrote and starred in. Glazer got pregnant shortly after the movie wrapped, and was heavily pregnant for all of its promotional events, which must have had an uncomfortable resonance for her.

Infertility is the theoretical focus of “False Positive” — Lucy (Glazer) and her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux) are struggling to get pregnant. But the film’s real subject is the patriarchy, and the way the medical system, and society at large, seeks to control women’s bodies and diminish their experience. Yet the message gets muddled through hallucinogenic sequences that undermine the female character just as much as her doctors do.

Lucy, a career-focused woman, is thrilled to find herself pregnant soon after discovering Dr. Hindle (a steely Pierce Brosnan), a fertility specialist. She’s carrying triplets, twin boys and a girl, but decides to terminate the boys for a safer pregnancy. Yet as it progresses, Lucy becomes paranoid, fearing her husband and Hindle are lying to her and that Hindle’s pink-clad, stiffly smiling nurse is stalking her. The lines between reality and hallucination begin to blur — which everyone around her benignly dismisses as “mommy brain” — and she becomes obsessed with a batik-clad, pan-African accented Black midwife (Zainab Jah), whose intuitive, spiritual approach to women’s bodies borders on voodoo.

Pierce Brosnan as the creepy Dr. Hindle.

Pierce Brosnan as the creepy Dr. Hindle. Courtesy of Hulu

When she finally gives birth, it’s to male twins, and Lucy discovers the doctor had impregnated her with his own semen. Hindle saved the boys because he believes his genetics are superior and hoped they would grow up to “spread the seed.” She rejects her sons, kicks out her husband and steals the fetus of the girl; in the closing scene, she attempts to nurse the purple, translucent creature, believing that it latches.

Glazer, best-known for comedy, was presumably trying to prove her ability to take on heavier topics and earn her place in the Hollywood canon. (She also packs the movie with references to Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Stepford Wives.”) Still, some of the movie’s themes are familiar from “Broad City,” for example, advocating for women’s autonomy. It’s just delivered via creep factor instead of “yas queen” this time.

Yet the movie ends up undermining its own message amidst its muddled plotlines.

The most egregious example comes near the end. Lucy’s concerns have been constantly brushed off as “mommy brain” throughout her pregnancy, an obvious example of the way men tend to dismiss women’s experiences, particularly as a result of hormones or hysteria. But right before we learn that her concerns were valid — that Hindle truly was plotting against her all along — Lucy realizes, in a moment of clarity, that her mystical midwife is a rather fastidious, conventional woman. (“I am not your mystical Negress,” she scolds a reeling Lucy.)

After that, we don’t know what to believe anymore. Just as the audience is supposed to realize that the men in Lucy’s life have been gaslighting her, we lose trust in her; as Slate’s Karen Han pointed out, the incident makes space to believe she might be making everything up. (Not to mention, it brings up a whole other conversation about the fetishization of Black women that is dropped as fast as it is raised.) Just as all of Lucy’s concerns are validated, she becomes too unreliable of a narrator to be believed.

Perhaps this is the point — gaslighting is effective, after all, and we are inhabiting Lucy’s experience; she is unsure who or what is real throughout, and thus so are we. But I could see the wrong person walking away from the film feeling like it was proof that women are unreasonable and hysterical when pregnant, and that men know best — or even worse, as proof that women who accuse men of malpractice, or even rape, are lying.

Hopefully in real life, Glazer’s pregnancy went more smoothly. (She has likely given birth by now, though there’s been no announcement yet.) As for me, I feel pretty validated in my fear of pregnancy.


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