This story contains major spoilers. Ilana Glazer is used to mining her own vulnerabilities and insecurities for laughs. But while filming False Positive, a Rosemary’s Baby-like pregnancy horror movie she co-wrote and stars in, she found herself navigating uncharted waters. The film, directed by John Lee (who co-wrote the script with Glazer) and now streaming on Hulu, is certainly a stark departure from the raunchy laughs of Broad City. But it was a challenge Glazer embraced wholeheartedly — even if it made her uncomfortable at times.
“Art is not always comforting,” she told Refinery29 over the phone ahead of the film’s premiere at Tribeca Festival earlier this month. “I'm used to trying to make people laugh and smile — it's scary.”
False Positive opens and ends in blood and gore. The first moments introduce the figure of a lone woman, hair matted and shirt covered in blood, walking the streets of New York in a daze. The scene is in stark contrast to the mild-mannered woman in a silk slip we meet just moments later, as the action rewinds roughly one year. Lucy (Glazer) and Adrian Martin (Justin Theroux) have been trying to get pregnant but to no avail. Concerned, they make an appointment with Adrian’s mentor, Dr. John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), a renowned legend in the field of fertility medicine. From the start, Lucy gets a creepy vibe from the glossy-if-sterile millennial pink clinic but forces herself to overlook her gut feeling in the face of Hindle’s paternalistic assurances. Not to worry, he says. All she needs is a simple procedure.
“In many situations, women are told not to trust their instincts,” Glazer said. “That was definitely a big theme in our film.”
It’s a feeling Glazer has certainly had in the past, although thankfully, not during her own pregnancy. In March, Glazer announced that she and husband David Rooklin were expecting their first child — a revelation that coincided with the imminent release of False Positive. Sometimes, life imitates art. “My pregnancy journey has been so, so different [than] that, thank god,” Glazer said.
Lucy’s experience takes a particularly fraught turn when it turns out Hindle’s patented version of IVF has implanted Lucy with multiple fetuses: male twins and a single female. To ensure the health of her eventual child, she must undergo selective reduction surgery. Adrian and Hindle advise Lucy to select the male twins, who appear to be stronger. But she has her heart set on a girl. She decides to keep the female, which she immediately names Wendy after her mother who recently passed away. (The name Wendy is also a significant reference to Peter Pan — and not just because it’s the theme of Lucy’s baby shower.) But after experiencing a vision of sorts during the procedure, Lucy starts to feel uneasy about the pregnancy. Something doesn’t feel right, but whenever she shares her concerns, they are dismissed as some version of “mommy brain.” The gaslighting reaches its peak after she gives birth, only to realize that Adrian and Hindle ignored her wishes and kept the male twins. Not only that, they were actually conceived with Hindle’s own sperm as part of his twisted plan to build an empire of genetically “superior” beings.
At this point, everything we — including Lucy herself— thought we knew is turned upside down. The twist even extends to characters like Corgan (Sophia Bush), Lucy's friend from a mom support group who turns out to be a Hindle follower and betrays her trust, and Grace Singleton (Zainab Jah), a midwife that Lucy clung to as a lifeline when things seemed to be spinning out of control. The latter especially, appears to prove that Lucy's mind has been playing tricks on her: When she returns Grace's office after her violent birth, Lucy realizes that she had been imagining the midwife as a magical Black character, there to save her in hour of need. (In this way, False Positive attempts to subvert some of horror's most pervasive tropes.)
Events come full circle when a postpartum Lucy sneaks into Hindle’s office and confronts him along with his head nurse, played with sinister joviality by Gretchen Mol. Things get violent, and she emerges from the office as the woman we first met in the film’s introduction.
“That was my first action scene outside of comedy,” Glazer said. “It’s a different kind of tension doing action like that, versus something that ends in a joke. It was really intense but really fun. What I loved about that experience with Pierce Brosnan and Gretchen Mol was that it was so equalizing. The hierarchy [of our characters] was so intense on set. To be learning choreography and tumbling and tousling was a big turn in the dynamic.”
Watching Glazer beat up a former 007 is certainly shocking, but it’s actually the quiet moment in its aftermath that will likely linger in viewers’ minds. As she leaves the clinic, Lucy steals the remains of the female fetus that was born alongside her male twin babies. Once home, she carries her living children to an open window and releases them into the sky where they fly off Peter Pan style. In an interview with Deadline, Lee confirmed that the ending of False Positive draws its roots from J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play — a work that contains much darker themes than the 1953 Disney adaptation.
“My wife and I had some birth issues, and during that time I was reading Peter Pan,” the director said. “There’s a section in Peter Pan where the parents, they’re inside the kids’ bedrooms … but they’re looking out the window that the kids have left [through] and I realized what a creepy kind of situation that was because it only meant a couple of things and none of them were good. It meant that either the kids have been thrown out the window or someone abducted them. And to me, that was my understanding of what Peter Pan was, while also kind of wrestling with the idea of ghosts and memory and how do you kind of get over tragedy… The ending of the movie was basically birthed right then.”
More ambiguous is what follows. Lucy begins to nurse when the fetus she’s cradling suddenly comes alive. A cover of Nina Simone’s “Who Am I?,” the lyrics of which hint at reincarnation and rebirth, plays in the background. Once again, the truth of these events is in question. Is this all happening in Lucy’s mind? Is it magic? That’s kind of up in the air as the credits roll.
“John and I received a lot of pushback for that imagery,” Glazer said about that moment. It’s easy to see why: The image of a fetus as a living baby nursing at its mother’s breast feels inherently political to say the least.
Glazer, however, stresses that ending on a political note was not her intent. Rather, for her, this was the natural culmination of Lucy’s journey and her own artistic vision. And no, she’s not going to explain it to us. “That’s one of those moments as an artist [where] I’ve had this experience of not trying to say one thing, but following the image that needed to occur at that moment in this film,” she said. “The image is what it is. I think the interpretation of it is really truly up to each viewer.”