In what is kind of gender swapped”Taken“, Janney plays the title character, a loner in a remote area of the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. The film opens with Lou in a dark place. She kills a deer to establish her tough-guy bona fides to the audience, withdraws all her money, and writes a mysterious letter to someone to inherit her home. She swallows some bourbon and prepares to take her own life when a woman who rents a house nearby bursts through the door. It’s Hannah (Smollett) and her daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) missing. Oh, did I mention a storm is coming? It’s getting ugly outside and there’s now a missing girl.
Hannah knows who took her daughter – her ex-husband Phillip (Logan Marshall-Green), who we meet beating and killing a man who was stupid enough to pick up a hitchhiker. It is revealed that Phillip was not just an abusive husband to Hannah, but faked his own death so he could get to his daughter under the guise of being presumed dead. Phillip is not your average sociopath – he was a special forces soldier and he even brought a few of his friends along to help with the kidnapping. Everyone underestimated Lou. Of course.
Once Lou and Hannah get out into the pouring rain, “Lou” should have had momentum as a survival thriller. And there’s a great action scene in a cabin where the title character unleashes his training on a couple of guys who don’t see it coming. With some tight fight choreography that Janney completely sells, I was ready for the film to build from there. And then it just stops.
A ridiculous twist doesn’t help. Without spoiling, “Lou” has one of those suspensions of disbelief character connections that requires robust writing and direction to push through it. When a movie takes a sharp, unbelievable turn, viewers are willing to put aside skepticism if the story keeps them entertained. But “Lou” can’t pull off this trick, allowing us to question the logic of it all in a way that makes the emotional scenes later feel hollow. The moment you start to question whether anyone would make that choice in a movie like “Lou,” it falls apart.