Lakeview Terrace (2008) dir. Neil LaBute
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
When neighbours go bad is the theme of “Lakeview Terrace”. Neil LaBute’s take on a familiar story has moments of the thought-provoking storytelling we expect from the director, but a couple of wrong turns lumps the film into the standard throwaway thriller genre.
Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington play Chris and Lisa Mattson, an interracial couple who moves into a middle-to-upper class Los Angeles suburb. Sucks to be them because from the moment they drive into their driveway they get dirty looks from their neighbour and curmudgeon of all curmudgeons, Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson). Abel is a single parent to two young kids and since his wife left him years ago it's left him in a really really bad mood.
Abel breaks Chris’ balls with some unsettling psychological torture. He introduces himself to Chris by pretending to carjack him on his driveway and later that day installs some blinding security lights to shine in their bedroom. Chris nervously shakes it off as good ol’ neighbourly eccentricities. Since Abel is a cop for a brief moment Chris feels safe. But as the days and weeks go by it’s clear Abel has a fundamental hatred of them. His behaviour escalates to more than mere nuisance. Suddenly Chris and Lisa find their life in danger.
Neil Labute works best when exploring the dark side of ordinary characters. Think about the heinous psychological games of his monstrous Chad character in “In the Company of Men” or Rachel Weisz’s manipulative Evelyn in “The Shape of Things”. Abel Turner fits that mold.
The fact that Samuel L. Jackson is black and someone who resents the Mattson’s interracial marriage is meant to twist some kind of expectation. It reads as obvious manipulation and the portrayal of Lisa’s father as an uptight upper class conservative reeks of that same overly sophisticated portrayal of Sidney Poitier’s character in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. The fact is the Mattson’s are saintly as hell, and lacking in any edge. So the Turner vs. Mattson battle is a dichotomized good vs. evil characterization with grey areas left unexploited.
If the writers or Labute imbued any goodness or goodwill in Abel Turner the film could have been more “The House of Sand and Fog” and less “Pacific Heights” or “Single White Female.” We expect LaBute to subvert around our expectations and when that doesn't happen here, it becomes even more frustrating.
And like most thrillers, you’ve seen the trailer you’ve unfortunately seen the entire film.
"Lakeview Terrace" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Watch the trailer for Lakeview Terrace - Watch more Entertainment