Bad neighbors. We’ve all had them. People who play loud music at 3 am or park in your spot. They’re a pain but a bit of pulsating bass through your bedroom wall in the middle of the night is nothing compared to the unneighborly jihad Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) unleashes on Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) in the new film Lakeview Terrace.
When Chris and Lisa moved to Lakeview Heights they were excited to own their California dream home. That excitement soon diminishes as their neighbor Able mounts a slow and steady psychological war on the young couple aimed at getting them to sell the house and leave his neighborhood. They soon come to surmise that Able, a decorated LAPD policeman and self-appointed neighbor watchdog, disapproves of their interracial relationship. As his harassment escalates the couple decides to fight back with tragic results.
A well cast movie should leave the viewer unable to imagine anyone else in a particular role. For example it’s impossible to picture someone other than Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, even though the role of Axel Foley was originally offered to Sylvester Stallone. Or could you imagine anyone replacing Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life? Nope, neither can I. Those actors brought something to those roles that made them special and unforgettable. In Lakeview Terrace the special something Samuel L. Jackson brings to the part of Able is his glare. Jackson has a fixed stare that could melt granite and it transforms his character from stock bad guy to unpredictable menace.
Jackson’s intimidating screen presence is the thing that elevates Lakeview Terrace from average thriller to effective urban horror film. It’s the key to the film’s success. Wilson and Washington are fine as the young, upwardly mobile couple, but any number of actors could have filled those roles. Jackson, however, makes the role his own, and in doing so does something director Neil LaBute couldn’t—make this movie compelling.
The story is average and in most ways predictable. Although there is nothing here that even comes close to the ineptitude LaBute displayed in his last big screen outing The Wicker Man, without the inspired casting of Jackson I’m afraid there wouldn’t be much to this movie. It plays on the kind of real life fear brought to your front doorstep also capitalized on in movies like Fatal Attraction or Play Misty for Me, but it’s a bit too talky and takes a bit too long to get to the juicy climax.
Lakeview Terrace is a forgettable thriller rescued by a joyously malevolent performance from Samuel L. Jackson.