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A quick perusal of any of LAKEVIEW TERRACE's promotional materials--its nervy trailer, its foreboding (and painterly) dawn-hued poster featuring Samuel L. Jackson looking less-than-neighborly in his squad car--not only reveals it as a thriller, but offers up aesthetic evocations of several popular home-invasion suspensers made in the early 1990s. Like UNLAWFUL ENTRY and PACIFIC HEIGHTS, LAKEVIEW TERRACE takes place in upper-middle-class Californian suburbia. The film's ubiquitous purple sky and poolside lighting create an air of domestic bourgeois comfort just waiting to be upended by deadly, social unease. In this mode, the surprises start coming when the film opens with intimate household scenes not of the film's purported heroes, an interracial couple who's about to move next-door, but of its not-entirely-apparent villain--a curiously middle-aged beat cop (Jackson) who raises a few eyebrows when he close-mindedly bullies his children, but seems sad and sympathetic.
The cop, a black man named Abel Turner, blankly observes from his home when the first new neighbour he sees is an African-American wife (Kerry Washington)--and then reacts with quiet shock and disgust when he realizes that the white mover is actually her husband, Chris (Patrick Wilson). The invasion in this home-invasion thriller is, ironically, the one perceived by its psychologically damaged bad guy. Abel, offended and ostensibly law-immune, immediately begins jabbing Chris with a toxic, racial passive-aggression that quickly becomes impossible to ignore. LAKEVIEW TERRACE adheres to a satisfying thriller construct. It's also a little interested in exploiting the archetypes of squirm-inducing domestic threat--all the nasty scenarios viewers know could happen from seeing those earlier movies--to consider several facets of American racism: its inevitability in familial and casual issues and its existence in liberal white guilt as much as its poisonous mixture with mental illness.