Over the course of three decades, Allison Janney has consistently delivered great performances across a range of genres like political TV dramas (The West Wing), film dramas (I, Tonya), and even movie musicals (Hairspray). The latest sees Janney transform into a mysterious, yet resourceful loner who uses her dark past to assist with finding the man who kidnapped her neighbor’s daughter. Directed by Anna Foerster from a screenplay by Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley, Lou is a quiet thriller that takes a deep dive into the consequences of one’s actions. The film enables Janney and Jurnee Smollett to command every scrap of attention through physical and emotionally compelling performances.

In a small, secluded town, Lou (Allison Janney) spends her days and evenings hunting for food and caring for her dog Jax. After coming to terms with her dangerous decisions and history, Lou is ready to move on from her dark past. Unfortunately, her plans are interrupted when her neighbor Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) informs Lou that her daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) has been abducted by Hannah’s ex-husband Philip (Logan Marshall-Green). Together, the two set out to uncover a terrifying truth amidst a massive storm, showcasing their perseverance and willingness to risk their lives. The rescue mission also reveals some shocking secrets, which connects them in more ways than one.

With Lou, Anna Foerster returns to film after a brief television directing stint with Westworld season 3 — four years after she made her directorial debut with Underworld: Blood Wars. In her latest, Foerster offers a quieter approach in her visual storytelling, concentrating on the characters to guide the plot while balancing three stories in one to discover hidden truths within their lives. By doing so, she humanizes very flawed characters in a way that viewers can connect to emotionally, even when it seems like they do not deserve it. Stylistically, Foerster never goes beyond the traditional Netflix thriller. Yet, her restraint is what allows Cohn and Stanley’s script to shine, especially when the focus is on the development of their characters.

In due time, Lou finds itself caught between moments of reticence, where the film excels, and revelation, where it tends to falter. In execution, the secrets among Lou, Hannah, and Philip are the components of the script that provide the most intrigue. This element enables Foerster to take a methodical approach in her storytelling, exposing secrets at a pace that requires a slow peel-back of the characters involved. Once the actual mysteries are unveiled, it ramps up the action and loses its early influence of great narratives centered on humanity and motherhood. On the other hand, these sequences also come at the right time to push the final act ahead full throttle.

Whether fans of Netflix thrillers end up liking Lou is a toss up depending on preferences in the pacing of these types of stories. But there’s one thing in particular that most fans will agree with: Allison Janney gives a transformative performance. Not only does the Primetime Emmy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award-winning actress give a powerful emotional performance, but Janney also delivers a stunning showcase of strength and physicality in her fight sequences. Alongside her is Jurnee Smollett, who is always a reliable talent, capable of stealing scenes and drawing a viewer’s eye directly towards her. Janney and Smollett’s chemistry is enough to lock in attention, even when this layered script takes bizarre plot turns.

In the end, Lou is the type of Netflix film that one may be compelled to watch for the fascinating dynamic among its three main characters. Paired with exceptional performances and onscreen chemistry, Foerster’s latest feels like a step in the right direction for the director's sophomore feature film. Through a disciplined approach in her visual storytelling, Foerster highlights the emotionally captivating aspects of the story while providing emphasis on their developments as individuals. With Cohn and Stanley’s spirited screenplay humanizing even the worst of characters, Lou is bound to be a conflicting yet interesting watching experience for viewers.

Lou released on Netflix Friday, September 23. The film is 107 minutes long and rated R for violence and language.