In what’s sort of a 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 for the audience, withdraws all of her money, and writes a mysterious letter to someone about inheriting her home. She slugs some bourbon and prepares to take her own life when a woman renting a home nearby bursts through the door. It’s Hannah (Smollett), and her daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) is missing. Oh, did I mention a storm is coming? It’s about to get 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 silly enough to pick up a hitchhiker. It’s 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 cover of being presumed dead. Phillip is not your ordinary sociopath—he was a special forces soldier, and he even brought along a couple of his buddies to help with the kidnapping. All of them underestimated Lou. Of course.
Once Lou and Hannah get out into the torrential rain, “Lou” should have had momentum as a survival thriller. And there’s a great action scene in a cabin wherein the title character unleashes her training on a couple of dudes 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 stalls out.
A ridiculous twist doesn’t help. Without spoiling, “Lou” has one of those suspension 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 set aside skepticism if the story keeps them entertained. But “Lou” can’t manage this trick, allowing us to question the logic of it all in a way that makes the emotional scenes later feel hollow. The minute you start asking whether or not someone would make that choice in a movie like “Lou,” it comes apart.