Ilana Glazer’s latest project, False Positive — a pregnancy thriller made with A24 and Hulu and which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival — is certainly a departure from her comedic roles. But as the film’s director John Lee points out, comedy and horror have more in common than might appear.
“There's a clear connection about expectations between horror and comedy,” Lee, who wrote False Positive with Glazer, tells NYLON. “The difference is how seriously you take the punchline.”
Starring Justin Theroux as Glazer’s partner and Pierce Brosnan as a clearly-creepy fertility doctor, False Positive riffs on genre classics like Rosemary’s Baby with the sharp-writing and wit Broad City fans know and love. “False Positive has a lot of nervous laughter that covers sad truths,” Lee says.
Below, a brief conversation with Lee about the film, and an exclusive clip from False Positive, streaming on Hulu on Friday, June 25:
What was the inspiration behind this story?
My wife and I experienced a miscarriage. My father, who was a very big comedic influence in my life, had just passed away and I was reading Peter Pan at that time. All these things were swirling around in my mind – loss, grieving, holding onto someone — and the image of the Darling parents staring out the open window of the kids’ room waiting for their children to return. This combination of things proved enough to inspire False Positive. From there I went backwards into trying to understand what drove the character in my vision to the ending.
Was the process of working with Glazer on this horror genre film different than working together on a comedy like Broad City?
Ilana was an amazing partner and collaborator. Since we are both anchored in comedy, our discussions of ‘jokes’ were things that made us uncomfortable, queasy, or heavy-hearted. With jokes you often are pushing each other to come up with the funniest punchline, with False Positive, we were pushing each other to darker truths.
There's also a clear connection about expectations between horror and comedy. The difference is how seriously you take the punchline. False Positive has a lot of nervous laughter that covers sad truths.
There have been comparisons of the film to Rosemary’s Baby — how much did you have that film in mind when making False Positive?
We had to avoid overt connections, but that's true with all the other movies that False Positive stands upon the shoulders of. Rosemary's Baby is so fun, but I wanted False Positive to live in the head of the woman. I wanted to immerse the experience in the person going through it. I'm going to guess that most men don't know what it's like to be gaslit, and most women do. That seemed to be a uniquely cinematic experience that I haven't seen used too much: overtly lying to the audience. Letting the 'truth' of cinema present itself as real is a confusion I have always loved about the form.
The frequent microaggressions Ilana's character faces add to the overall agitated, suspenseful tenor of the film. Was that intentional?
Of course. Without that there's no movie. From the ill-intentioned to the good-intentioned microaggression, we wanted to include all the variations Ilana and I have seen and experienced in our lives. And I'm sure for me, as a mostly white male, it's experienced and unintentionally committed.
What's the ultimate message of False Positive?
I would want people to understand the debasement that happens to the individual with a lack of understanding and support, while at the same time enjoying the odd, creepy, dreaminess of the film. There are still jokes, scares, cool shots, and all the other great things that make these type of movies fun to experience.