Lou brings forth an underwhelming soul

Lou (Netflix)

Stagnant direction trips up an otherwise decent woman of war, played with intensity by Allison Janney.

Since Lou greets you with the logo of J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot, a question surfaces: Is this a Cloverfield project? Or, like 10 Cloverfield Lane, it isn’t one until it is?

As it turns out, the hat-wearing and gun-toting Lou is her own person, a stiffly-poured drink waiting for you in a far-off bar sequestered in the woods. The approach works, as they promote said beverage with notes of abduction, wild weather, and secrecy. From a story by Maggie Cohn of The Staircase and a script by her & newcomer Jack Stanley, the film revolves around the titular loner (Allison Janney) with a redacted past whose lethal skills are in demand when her neighbor Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) comes to her, after her violent ex Philip (Logan Marshall-Green) kidnaps their daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) one stormy night.

So why is the drink is still a letdown? For starters, none of the aforementioned notes sing until the end—not of the drink, but the night. Anna Foerster’s direction is only rousing in the final moments. When the buildups become explosions—including a literal one, rendered with questionable CGI—it’s hard to react to such bursts of activity. Her vision is solemn, keeping you at arm’s length even in scenes where Lou has long since established the still-forested setting of San Juan Islands (Vancouver doubling the real place), Lou’s indifference to everything (save for her dog Jax) or a grim end-of-day ritual (sipping some liquor, burning some papers and then putting a rifle into her mouth). 

For 8.5 of Lou’s ten parts, if the unfolding scenario requests a new energy, it won’t have it right then—let alone extra doses. Try as Nima Fakhrara’s score might in adding more guttural synth kicks or Michael McDonough’s photography minding not the changes in the aspect ratio. Foerster’s direction stays constant, vetoing those other attempts at providing variety. Key exhibits throughout the kidnapping, primarily the why and the who, written with a “more than meets the eye” flair, receive execution that has the “more than” part scratched out. While watching Lou, you might be tempted to remember Hanna as a recent example that comprehends this notion, even if Joe Wright’s “more than”-isms tend to go above, beyond, and overboard.

Lou (Netflix)
LOU (2022) Allison Janney as Lou and Jurnee Smollett as Hannah. Cr: Liane Hentscher/NETFLIX

The woods are hazardous, but set pieces supporting the fact always have weird starts and stops as if responding to an “we’re going over-budget!” alarm. What resides under upturned stones is extraordinary, but they are staged with a simplicity that cheapens more than bolsters, having as much heft as when the stones are left alone. At this point, it’s not out of place to just hopehoping that aliens will show up, although that would just further undercut the capable performances across the board. Janney and Smollett don’t need that to upset their perfect leaning into their respective characters’ cores—veiled nuisance with Lou and unyielding parenthood with Hannah.

Perhaps Lou fails to click because Foerster doesn’t quite find a way to marry the action-thriller surface and its maternally driven undercurrent. But in its final moments, those absent elements are suddenly present, a fight between two against raging waves that highlights the storms within these two combatants. Foerster clearly knows how to elevate the substance like the rest of her cast and crew, but only when the end is near does she display that ability. It lowers the film from being passable, undemanding entertainment. Then again, there are lesser pursuits on Netflix.

Lou is currently streaming on Netflix.

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