Welcome to the neighborhood here in Lakeview Terrace. See that house next door with the zillion watt security lights? Yeah, they’re pointed right at your bedroom window, but that’s just for your own protection. Well, that’s Abel’s house, right there. He’s a cop with the LAPD. Don’t worry about crime around here. Abel performs regular patrols in the neighborhood in his off hours. If you do something against the rules here, like litter, or park somewhere you shouldn’t, don’t worry, Abel will let you know what’s what around here. Abel will keep a close eye on you. Yes, indeed. Welcome to Lakeview Terrace.
When young couple Chris (Wilson) and Lisa (Washington) buy their first home and move into the community of Lakeview Terrace, they are giddy with excitement. They have that first time homeowners feeling, at least until they meet neighborhood big dog, Abel (Jackson). First of all, Jackson doesn’t believe in interracial marriage, which is what the Mattisons happen to be. They’re used to that. Lisa’s father, played by Barney Miller’s Ron Glass, isn’t real high on the idea either. But when Abel starts to meddle in their business, they begin to get concerned. They don’t help matters themselves when they decide to “christen” the pool with a make-out session while Abel’s young son and daughter watch from their bedroom window. Abel’s the self-appointed community enforcer, and he’s decided that the Mattisons have to go. The confrontations continue to escalate, leading to the predictable, because it’s inevitable, conclusion.
I call this the train wreck syndrome. There are things that in reality are incredibly disturbing to witness, and yet we can’t take our eyes away. Lakeview Terrace is such a situation. Driven by yet another powerful performance by Samuel Jackson, the movie is a train wreck. We can see it coming from a mile away, just as clearly as that headlight at the other end of the tunnel. You know you’re not going to be surprised at all at how it’s going to end. It’s not going to be pretty, and the image will likely haunt you for the rest of your life. You know all of these things, but you keep right on watching. Credit Jackson for making Abel disturbingly realistic and more frightening than any slasher monster or creature. He’s frightening because we know there are really Abels out there. This is no imaginative play of the imagination. We know that we could very well find ourselves living in a Lakeview Terrace. Abel’s a cop, so he conducts his sadism with near impudence. You can’t call the cops, and the rest of the block is too terrified of him to come to your aid. In fact, you know they’re likely happy as can be that he’s found another target to keep him occupied. That’s why this film is as effective as it is. There are only three main characters in this film, and they create enough tension to drive the drama the entire running time of the movie. For you math people out there, I’ll break it down in algebraic language for you: Jackson (Y) + Victim (X ) + Realistic Setting = Compelling drama, where X = badass.
Lakeview Terrace is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. It was the director’s intent to desaturate the blues and greens from the image. There is a wildfire subplot that is merely a distraction to the action, but it was allowed to define the look of the film. That means a lot of yellow and orange and even red. This was all intentional, but it at times adds an unrealistic hue to the overall image. The picture itself is very sharp. Black levels are a little better than average; again there is some artistic license, so you need to go with the flow.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a bit overpowering at times. This is the kind of film that often builds tension or drama with loudness. I can’t say I find it very effective, and it does make you want to crank the lower volume segments, but you know how that ends up working out. Eventually some booming dramatic moment will get too loud. Not good if someone else in the house is trying to sleep. I don’t like having to ride the gain on a movie. If the mixer did their job, I should be able to set it once and put the remote down. That’s not the case with this film. There are a few nice subtle moments in the ambient surrounds. The sub levels are good during those powerful moments I spoke of.
There is an Audio Commentary with director Neil LaBute and Kerry Washington. It’s really mostly LaBute. He kind of steamrolls her through most of it. Plenty of information to be had here, if you’re interested.
Welcome To Lakeview Terrace: There are three sections to this 18 minute feature: Open House, Meet Your Neighbors, and Home Sweet Home. Use the handy play all feature. It’s a complete love fest. The first part shows how everyone loved LaBute. In the second part everyone loved Jackson, and to a lesser degree the other two leads. Cast and crew talk about the film’s synopsis and tackle the racial and violence issues in the film.
Deleted Scenes: There are 8 for a total of 14 minutes. Again you have that handy play all option to use. The most notable are a couple of scenes that show the couple at their jobs, doing what they do. It tends to make them less sympathetic, in my eyes, so appropriately cut.
For such a racially motivated thriller, the presence of Jackson appears to help mute those aspects of the film. To LaBute’s credit, by the time we really get deep into the confrontations, any original motivation is soon left behind us. It’s like family feuds. You really do tend to forget why these guys got off on the wrong foot. Honestly, I don’t think Abel would have taken a shine to these folks even if they weren’t interracial. The fact is, you get to watch Jackson work his magic with the F-Bomb in a character that takes over the movie. “The rest doesn’t matter.”