*Lakeview Terrace (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Oh, to live to see such a rarity: a horror movie for grown-ups! No mad slashers, no psychopathic torturers, no creative carving up of frail human bodies. Just the plausible pettiness of human nastiness slowly, inexorably building to a tragedy of suburban proportions.
Ah, it's moving day, an awkwardness with which we're all familiar. Meeting the new neighbors and trying to get off on the right foot, knowing that you're stuck living next to these people for what'll feel like forever if you can't make it work. So it goes for Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington), obviously not newlyweds but moving into their first mortgage. They're excited: It's a beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood in the hills of Los Angeles. It's literally a dream come true.
The guy already living next door? Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is a cop, and a hardass as a man and as a father: He's got lots and lots of rules for his kids, teen Celia (Regine Nehy) and preteen Marcus (Jaishon Fisher). Mom is gone, so it's just the three of them.
Some of Abel's rules like the one about which basketball jersey Marcus may wear to school seem like a bit of a joke at first. Looking back later, we see that as just a hint of Abel's authoritarianism.
Lakeview Terrace director Neil LaBute, working from a script by David Loughery and Howard Korder, plays with expectations about race from the beginning, as Abel watches his new black neighbors a young woman and an older man move in, with the help of the white mover driving the U-Haul. Actually, the young white man is Chris, the husband; the older black man, played by Ron Glass, is Lisa's father.
Wilson and Washington both could be stars, if they play their cards right. They have extraordinary screen presences separately, while together sear with amazing chemistry. It's nice, and so rare, to see a couple on film that you can really believe is deeply in love.
The ruination of their happiness is in the offing, of course; such love cannot stand, or there would be no movie. At first it's sly, subtle comments about who belongs where and who belongs with whom, "jokes" about what makes a person black or white, and minor, seemingly incidental, accidental harassment.
It's all from Abel, and, at first, is directed mostly at Chris, who elects himself ambassador to the land of next-door. It's also so understated that a sensitive guy like Chris can hardly complain, at least not to Abel's face, because he knows he'd be the one coming off as petty.
The situation escalates, and it's all happening in a slow-burn atmosphere, literally. It's a scorching-hot summer, and a drought-ridden one, and fires are rushing over the hills toward the homes of the Turners and the Mattsons. Surely, none of this can end well ...
The only other thing I'll mention here: I've never wanted to own a house, and now I really don't. And if they showed Lakeview Terrace to everyone applying for a mortgage, no one else would, either.