The latest addition to producer J.J. Abrams’s oeuvre of mediocre action movies is the Netflix feature “Lou.” The movie centers on the main character Lou (Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”), who is painted as the antihero in a story involving a mother Hannah (Jurnee Smollett, “Birds of Prey”), who rents a house on Lou’s property, and the search for Hannah’s kidnapped daughter, Vee (Ridley Bateman, “Shattered”), during a heavy rainstorm. Lou and Hannah follow the trail of clues left by the kidnapper (Logan Marshall-Green, “Upgrade”), trying to reach Vee before the kidnapper takes her on a boat back to the mainland.
There are hints of Lou’s supposedly dark past, established via flashbacks and an opening sequence involving an inexplicable bank withdrawal and a vague note about her misdeeds. The film tries its hardest to be elusive as to what those secrets could be, but the elements of implied mystery are not engaging enough to make up for the repetitiveness of the storyline.
Smollett’s performance is the most enticing part of the film. The audience sees Hannah transform from depending on Lou’s guidance to relying on herself in her mission to get her daughter back. Yet, through all the danger that befalls the main characters, Smollett is able to balance Hannah’s dynamic character development with her consistent love for Vee, the one aspect of Hannah’s personality that remains unchanged. In doing so, Hannah becomes the most likable character to watch, someone that audiences can consistently relate to throughout the messiness of the rest of the film.
Director Anna Foerster (“Underworld: Blood Wars”) is particularly successful in revealing characters by using imagery to draw parallels between different parts of the story. In one such instance, Foerster first presents a scene where Lou is seen hunting with her dog, Jax, who laps up the blood of a deer she has just killed. Later, Jax is seen drinking the blood of a person Lou killed, revealing that Lou isn’t really an avid hunter, but a trained fighter. Foerster continues to use animals and various aspects of nature to foreshadow events in the plot and to carefully unveil character motivations, which serves as a brilliant way to hint at recurring themes of death, murder and past regrets.
Considering Lou is the titular character, it makes sense that the story centers on her, and because Hannah’s and Vee’s stories are so closely connected to Lou’s, their storylines are also resolved. However, this formula doesn’t do justice to the other characters. Hannah’s story is resolved only on the condition that the movie continues to center Lou’s position as the antihero. Despite having a lot of screen time, Hannah feels more like a plot device than a main character, as the resolution of the film centers on Lou’s backstory rather than emphasizing Hannah’s.
Foerster does her best to squeeze in intimate, emotional moments between action sequences, but they are glossed over and fail to provide any real character development. As expected, many scenes devolve into action, including ones where characters leverage emotional weaknesses as tactical advantages in physical confrontations, but the execution is sloppy. There is no distinct separation between action and drama, and as a result, “Lou” suffers due to underdeveloped characters.
Given how unoriginal the plot is, it would have been nice for the location to be more unexpected. From the first shot, “Lou” uses classic action movie staging: stormy weather as a metaphor for the upcoming challenges that the main characters will face. The setting, a desolate island in the Pacific Northwest, is an obvious choice that sets up the rest of the events nicely, given that the developing plots wouldn’t have been believable in a more public and crowded place. The isolated setting served to further the action movie tropes present in “Lou.”
It would have benefited “Lou” had Foerster decided to restructure the scenes in a way that didn’t make plot twists seem so obvious. Given the nature of undisclosed dark secrets, creating a far more sinister image of Lou rather than a net good character that is rough around the edges could have set the movie apart from its genre. Instead, “Lou” follows a traditional rising action, climax and falling action formula — a waste of the talent that came together to make this movie.
Daily Arts Contributor Kristen Su can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.