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 lump the film into the standard throwaway thriller genre.
Lakeview Terrace (2008) dir. Neil LaBute
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington play Chris and Lisa Mattson, an interracial couple that moves into a middle-to-upper class Los Angeles suburb. But it 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’s balls with some unsettling psychological torture. He introduces himself by pretending to carjack Chris 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, Chris feels safe for a brief moment. But as the days and weeks go by it’s clear that Abel has a fundamental hatred of the couple. His behaviour escalates to more than mere nuisance. Suddenly, Chris and Lisa find their life in danger.
Neil LaBute works best when he explores 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 Mattsons interracial marriage is meant to twist and prompt some kind of expectation. It reads as obvious manipulation, and the portrayal of Lisa’s father as an uptight upper class conservative wreaks of that same overly sophisticated portrayal of Sidney Poitier’s character in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The fact is, the Mattsons 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, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve unfortunately seen the entire film.