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Hulu's 'False Positive' is not a 'Rosemary's Baby' remake. It's a female-forward 'Frankenstein.'

Ilana Glazer co-wrote the horror film, which reveals what occurs when men try to build a self-perpetuating patriarchy sans women, and the women fight back.
Ilana Glazer stars as Lucy in the film \"False Positive.\"
Ilana Glazer stars as Lucy in the film "False Positive."Hulu

Director John Lee’s “False Positive,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week and starts streaming on Hulu on June 25, is bound to be compared to the 1968 Roman Polanski classic conspiratorial pregnancy horror, “Rosemary’s Baby.” But, in reality, it may have even more in common with Mary Shelley’s tale of a mad male scientist obsessed with seizing control of reproduction.

Like “Frankenstein,” “False Positive” is about the violence that results when men imagine they can build a self-perpetuating patriarchy without women.

The woman the patriarchy wants to simultaneously use and toss aside is, in this case, named Lucy (played by co-writer Ilana Glazer). An advertising executive with a promising career and a doting, successful surgeon husband named Adrian (Justin Theroux), Lucy seemingly has it all. But there’s one flaw: She hasn’t been able to get pregnant. Luckily, Adrian is friends with the top fertility specialist in the world, Dr. John Hindle (played with magnificently malevolent beneficence by Pierce Brosnan).

Hindle’s methods quickly result in three fetuses: identical twin boys and a girl. The doctor recommends sacrificing the girl to ensure the boys can thrive. But Lucy — whose own mother has recently died — wants to keep the girl, whom she names Wendy.

In the half-century since “Rosemary’s Baby,” women have, perhaps, found more ways to fight back.

Lucy’s suspicions of Hindle and her husband then start to grow, and her sense of reality starts to fray and drip, as she sinks into a red pool of anger, fear and paranoia.

For better and worse, “False Positive” can’t reproduce the sweeping, inescapable sense of the protagonist’s disempowerment in “Rosemary’s Baby” or its predecessors like “Gaslight.” The women in those films are largely passive, with few personal or interpersonal resources when the patriarchy turns against them. Like Frankenstein’s wife, they can do little except shrink and be strangled.

Lucy, in contrast, is smart and determined — even in extremis. It’s because of her strength and intelligence, in fact, that men want to exploit her. The men in her life want her to use her talents solely to enhance male success and patriarchal bonds. For example, the other executives at the ad company take credit for her work; Adrian gets her to write a speech for him when he has to present an award to Hindle.

But Lucy is able to advocate for herself: When Adrian tries to verbally bully her, she steamrolls him before smiling and offering him coffee. Hindle repeatedly tells her not to look on the internet for information, but she ignores him. Even when she has frightening hallucinations, she doesn’t doubt herself for very long and, when she’s physically threatened, she doesn’t back down.

In the half-century since “Rosemary’s Baby,” women have, perhaps, found more ways to fight back.

If patriarchy has changed in any way, it’s only because it’s been forced to. Left to its own devices, it would reproduce itself identically, generation after generation, like Frankenstein building the same monster forever.

“False Positive” is about the violence that results when men imagine they can build a self-perpetuating patriarchy without women.

“False Positive” represents this vision of sterile, monstrous replication through its insistent use of visual doubling: The director, like Hindle, multiplies the human form through artificial means. Via artfully placed reflections, we see two Lucys in the bathroom here or two Lucys delivering a presentation to a client there.

The obsession with twos evokes Lucy’s contested male twins — the boys that her doctor and husband want her to birth without the girl she’s also conceived, which represent the doctor and the husband, who share bonds and secrets and ambitions that exclude Lucy even as they require her body. When Lucy wants to change her birthing plan, Adrian is weirdly concerned about how Hindle will react; he seems to think it’s the doctor’s baby rather than Lucy’s. And when Hindle inseminates Lucy, he boasts about the sperm he’s using, declaring smugly that it is “powerful stuff!” Fertility for Hindle is a male property, of which every swaggering patriarch should be proud.

Hindle’s odd enthusiasm for semen is also mirrored in his enthusiasm for his own image. He’s got a magazine with his picture on the cover in his waiting room, and one of his two creepily devoted nurses becomes belligerent when a patient removes it from the office. “He’s been working for 30 years to get on that cover, and he doesn’t appreciate you taking it,” she hisses.

One of the most striking images in “False Positive” is a close-up of the cover of an early edition of “Peter Pan,” which a friend gives Lucy as a gift. Peter is shown in silhouette, standing at the window, his shadow stretching out before him. In effect, there are two dark Peters, connected at the feet — the boy who had no mother, multiplying himself. It’s an image of men creating men in a world without women.

As Lucy looks at the page, she begins to hallucinate: The shadow image runs and flows, till it looks like a misshapen blob. In “False Positive,” patriarchy’s child is patriarchy’s reflection, and both are bloody.