By Nick Levine
It’s impossible not to compare this film to Taken, the surprise 2008 smash that transformed Liam Neeson into an action hero. Lou‘s star Allison Janney has even acknowledged it’s in the “same kind of genre” as Neeson’s subsequent run of tough-guy movies. But though Lou is derivative and schematically plotted, it’s gripping enough to get away with it, thanks largely to Janney’s committed performance.
Her title character is a grizzled loner who lives in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. We’re in the 1980s here – something director Anna Foerster crudely signposts by showing Ronald Reagan on a TV screen – which conveniently means she has no mobile phone connecting her to the wider world. In early scenes, we see Lou hunting deer with her dog, batting away a friendly gesture from the local sheriff (Matt Craven), then coolly preparing to kill herself while a storm rages outside.
Lou’s suicide plan is interrupted when Hannah (Jurnee Smollett), a lone mother who rents a trailer on her land, arrives at her door desperately seeking help. Hannah’s young daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) has been kidnapped by her father Philip (Logan Marshall-Green), a Special Forces veteran she thought was dead, and she needs Lou’s landline to call the sheriff.
Lou’s phone has also been knocked out by the storm, so she and Hannah bundle into her pick-up truck, but the engine is flooded. When Lou looks under the bonnet, she spots a homemade bomb just in time to rush them to safety. With no transport or way of communicating with the sheriff, she persuades Hannah that their only option is to head into the woods in pursuit of Vee and the little girl’s seemingly unstable father. When Hannah asks Lou how she knows so much about staying safe in a dangerous situation, she replies unconvincingly: “Girl scouts.”
Foerster, who cut her teeth as a crew member on Roland Emmerich blockbusters including Independence Day before making her directorial debut with 2016’s Underworld: Blood Wars, builds tension pretty effectively. For much of the film’s runtime, the rain beats down so hard that Lou and Hannah’s sodden pursuit of the kidnapper feels genuinely grim. It’s a shame the script by Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley is so clumsy. Clearly Lou isn’t just a strange middle-aged lady who doesn’t like people much, but it’s far too easy to piece together her backstory before the big reveal. And at one point, she and Hannah even have to cross a broken rope bridge, something J.J. Abrams (credited as a producer here) really should have nixed.
Thankfully, Smollett (excellent) and Janney are a compelling double act. Though the latter won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role opposite Margot Robbie in I, Tonya, she’s best known for her TV work in The West Wing and Mom. She clearly relishes this rare opportunity to take a lead film role and really rips into the fight scenes. Lou‘s over-egged ending doesn’t quite ring true, but Janney keeps you rooting for her every step of the way.
- Director: Anna Foerster
- Starring: Allison Janney, Jurnee Smollett, Logan Marshall-Green
- Release date: September 23 (Netflix)