You think you've got problems with bad neighbors? You don't. And you'll realize that when you start comparing notes with Chris and Lisa Mattson.
This newlywed couple moves into the home of their dreams and quickly comes face to face with an absolute nightmare next door. Said night terror, Abel Turner, is a tightly wound African-American LAPD cop/single parent who has some very strong opinions about ... everything.
But he boils with a very special kind of ill will when it comes to judging interracial relationships—like the Mattsons'. He certainly doesn't want his kids to be influenced by such things. And when he spots his young neighbors fooling around in the backyard pool, or peeks through their windows while making his nightly watchdog rounds and sees them smooching, it only inflames him all the more.
So, even though the Mattsons do their best to get along and be good neighbors, Abel is having none of it. In fact, from outright intimidation to a little smash-and-grab vandalism, he's decided do whatever it takes to send this unwanted couple packing. And if that means taking things to the next bloody level, then so be it.
On the surface, it appears that Abel wants to be a good father to his kids and a hard-working civil servant for his community. But as things unfold we learn that a tragedy in his past has twisted him into an unbalanced man who justifies bad (and even evil) choices. That's not positive, of course, but the film makes it clear what side of the fence you're supposed to be on.
Chris and Lisa, on the other hand, work hard to shape a good life together in spite of social and family pressures brought about by their interracial marriage. They also go through some personal struggles when Lisa becomes pregnant, but decide that they both want to start a family. Ultimately, they put their lives on the line for each other. After one particularly tragic series of events, Chris tells his wife, "I love you. The rest isn't important."
When Abel first wakes in the morning, he kneels and prays at his bedside. But when a frightened wife-beater says to Abel, "I swear to God!" Abel retorts, "God ain't here, you swear to me."
Chris decides that he and Lisa should "christen" their pool, so he strips off his clothes and slips in to make love to her. No nudity is shown, but we see him take off Lisa's swimsuit. Abel's kids, Celia and Marcus, watch them from an upstairs window. (With Celia rudely joking that Marcus will go to hell for doing so.)
Chris and Lisa are also shown a number of times getting in or out of bed—he's always shirtless with boxers and she usually wears a low-cut negligee or a brief tank top and panties. Once, Chris climbs out of bed naked, barely covering himself with a discarded article of clothing. When Lisa finds out that their neighbor is a cop she jokes, "Maybe we can borrow his handcuffs." The two often kiss.
Celia wears a very small bikini to swim in the Mattsons' pool. Lisa and several other women wear low-cut tops.
Abel allows one of his stoolies to stay on the street despite the fact that he's a child molester. He tells the man, "No more little girls." When the guy objects, Abel tells him, "Just 'cause they don't scream when you use them, don't mean they're not little." Later, Abel gets the man to go smash up Chris and Lisa's home. When Lisa comes in unexpectedly and starts disrobing for a shower, the molester grabs her and tries to overpower her sexually.
When Chris goes over to Abel's house to ask for a little peace and quiet during a noisy bachelor party, Abel pushes him into the midst of several strippers who are dressed in midriff- and cleavage-baring outfits. One woman opens her shirt to reveal her bra and rubs herself on a struggling Chris. Abel taunts him and suggests that he might not be able to satisfy his black wife.
Violent exchanges in the community of Lakeview Terrace start with a seemingly accidental skinned knuckle and ratchet their way up to a very intentional bullet to the chest.
Some of the more intense scenes: 1) Abel shoots a thug pointblank with his .45 and the guy falls into the Mattsons' pool, his blood turning the water red. 2) Lisa is manhandled and thrown around her bedroom by a man three times her size. She falls to the floor, cutting her forehead open. 3) While driving away for help, Lisa's shot at and crashes her car into a parked vehicle. 4) A shotgun blast rips through a front door, narrowly missing Abel and his partner. Abel gives chase to the man, disarms him, breaks his ribs with the gun stock and jams the barrel of the gun up under the man's chin. 5) A man is repeatedly shot by four policemen.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol flows freely. Several times Abel and Chris drink beer and hard liquor in their homes. Once, they down the stuff together in a bar. Chris and Lisa have a housewarming party at which a number of their friends drink beer and wine. Abel offers up his home for a bachelor party, and the attending group of cops tosses back lots of suds and the stronger stuff. Another community party finds neighbors drinking wine, beer and margaritas.
Chris has a smoking habit that his wife doesn't appreciate, so he lights up in his car and flips cigarette butts into Abel's bushes. Another man smokes at the scene of a crime.
Lakeview Terrace starts with the news that a wildfire is burning through the Southern California hillsides and threatening to eventually char the L.A. neighborhoods nearby. This is, of course, a not-so-subtle metaphor for the fiery, one-dimensional conflict that's about to ignite between neighbors in one of those small communities.
Their clash smolders with racial tension, flares with the accelerant of harsh profanity and past sexual misdeeds, and inevitably rages hotly with bloody violence in the streets.
From the moment the just-short-of-psychotic Abel Turner casts his first jaundiced look toward the couple moving in next door, things start feeling a lot like they do when a relative of mine (who shall not be named) is set loose on an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. You know where it's going, and it won’t be pretty.
It's painfully plain to see where the winds are pushing this movie's fire. Worse, there's precious little to learn from examining the scorched earth that smokes and cracks behind it.