Chris Mattsen (Wilson) and his wife Lisa (Washington) are a young, recently married interracial couple who have just moved into a "starter home" in an upper-middle class neighborhood near Los Angeles, California. Looking forward to starting their brand new life together, the Mattsens have few worries aside from getting settled in, and when they should start talking about starting a family. That is, until they meet their new neighbor, Abel Turner (Jackson).
Abel is an old-fashioned, conservative beat cop who has spent the last several years after his wife's death raising his two children in the very same neighborhood. He disapproves of Chris and Lisa's relationship, and wastes little time in letting them know how he feels about it... even going so far as to make vague threats, turn his security lights so that they shine directly into the couple's bedroom window, and sabotaging things around the house. When Chris responds in kind in an effort to show Abel that they are there to stay, the situation quickly escalates. With no fear from police interference due to being a cop himself, Abel becomes increasingly determined to drive his new neighbors out, and is willing to use any means necessary to do it.
Lakeview Terrace includes examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Abel. The sad irony is, on some level, he genuinely means well and wants the best for his children, but his uber-strict and controlling ways turn him into this.
- Adults Are Useless: There is hardly any screentime and only 1 or 2 scenes with characters beside Abel and the Mattsons. It seems as if the writer or director wanted to focus on the Mattsons with no outside support. They are quite stupid in their own ways after all, not complaining to anyone else but Lisa's father, who is the most prominent supporting character only having 5 minutes in 2 scenes in the film.
- Asshole Victim: His tyrannical behavior towards his kids, his harassment of Chris and Lisa, using his status as a cop to abuse his power and being an over all dickhead throughout the film, very few people shed tears when Abel was gunned down.
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: While Abel (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is harassing the Mattsens, the rest of the police force turns a blind eye to his actions until it's too late.
- Batman Gambit: The final scene. Chris knows Abel can use his influence to get the cops on his side if he surrenders, so he taunts Abel about his late wife's affair until Abel commits Suicide by Cop.
- Abel's use of his informant to break into the house and subsequent improvisation by shooting him. He'd have got away with it if Chris didn't find the guy's phone.
- Blasphemous Boast: Abel gives one to a perp midway through the movie when he asks if the incident was going to happen again:Perp: No, sir! I swear to God! It won't happen again!
Abel: God ain't here! You swear to me!
- Cranky Neighbor: Abel, turned Up to Eleven. He will stop at nothing to get rid of the new couple in the neighborhood.
- Cynicism Catalyst: The event that ultimately drove Turner to focus his rage on the young interracial couple is revealed to be the death of his wife, who was killed in a car accident with her white boss; they were having an affair. It is implied that she was going to run away with him, mostly due to Abel's strictness.
- Dirty Cop: Abel Turner is shown to be a man who won't hesitate to break the rules to get whatever he wants, whether it's at home or on the job.
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted. In one of the most disturbing scenes in the movie Abel has his friends hold down Chris while he's sexually assaulted by a stripper. When his wife finds the video in her mailbox the next day, she knows damn well Chris was assaulted.
- Foreshadowing: The first thing we see Abel do in the movie is chide his son for wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey. At first it seems to be a normal reaction for a cop seeing his son in the merchandise of an accused rapist, but given what we learn later, this is a whopper of a clue as to his attitude towards interracial coupling (Kobe's accuser was a white hotel employee, and at bare minimum, he cheated on his wife.)
- "Friends" Rent Control: Only in Hollywood would anyone consider the Mattsens' house a "starter home". A house that size, in that neighborhood of L.A. (which has some of the highest housing costs in the U.S.), with a decent sized in-ground pool, would easily cost seven figures. Abel as well, who can afford his own home on a beat cop's salary. Even with the mention of him "working my ass off, saving every dime," it's too much of a stretch.
- The Informant: Clarence Darlington is a small time drug dealer and Abel Turner's informant.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Abel's annoyance about his kids witnessing Chris and Lisa making love in their swimming pool. As well as his lingering anger at his wife, who repaid his working like a dog to give her a good life by cheating on him.
- Although given his authoritarian and controlling ways?? Its probably what drove his wife to cheat on him.
- Kick the Dog: Abel slapping his daughter.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Played with. Lisa gets pregnant even though she and Chris had agreed to wait. Chris is not happy about this, and it turns out she had stopped taking her birth control pills. She claims she forgot, but it's pretty clear she was getting fed up with waiting and probably did it on purpose. They ultimately decide to have the child.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Abel's harassment towards Chris and Lisa Mattsen, played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington is based on his racist attitudes, and the fact that they're a mixed race couple.
- Meaningful Name: Jackson's character Abel is no stranger to betrayal.
- Monster Sob Story: If you take a look on Abel's backstory you should feel more pity for him even if he's an arrogant and racist jerkass.
- Police are Useless: Of course, considering that Abel is a cop and will certainly attempt to mislead the police, like he does when he claims he heard noises after the Mattsons call them after their car tires have been slashed. The fact that they don't complain to the police again or especially tell one of his buddies is also quite dumb. His buddies may at least find some reason to believe them as they would probably know about Abel's past.
Lisa's Father: He has the colour issue on his side. And that colour is blue.
- Then again, as is repeatedly pointed out by various characters throughout the movie, Abel's buddies would have probably just turned a blind eye to the entire situation. We are talking about the people who agreed to hold a random guy down and let him be sexually assaulted seemingly for no other reason than Abel told them to do it, after all... The only police shown that don't fit this trope are the ones at the very end who don't even seem to know Abel and were only there to help with the evacuation from the fire.
- Rabid Cop: Abel has lost his sense of morality by the time the film begins.
- Rule of Symbolism: Pay attention to what people drink in this movie: the first thing we see is Abel drinking a glass of water in the morning; Chris drinks water later on, but only after his first altercation with Abel. When they agree to meet in a bar to discuss the matter between, Chris conspicuously orders water, but Abel is drinking alcohol. Water puts out fires. Alcohol is an accelerant.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Displayed in chilling fashion by an exchange between Lisa and Abel.Lisa: Get off of my property!Abel: Or what? You'll call the cops? Here, use my phone. I can tell you exactly who is on duty.
- Shown Their Work: Until about the third act, Abel's behavior (especially toward his daughter) is a disturbingly accurate depiction of an abusive law enforcement officer using techniques learned on the job at home.
- That and the raging fire happening in the background.
- Scary Black Man: It's Samuel L. Jackson, what did you expect?
- Sleeping with the Boss: This turns out to be a major plot point. Turner's wife was having an affair with her white boss, and they died in a car accident together. The affair resulted in Turner hating interracial couples, and it's the reason he harasses the lead couple.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- The criminal Abel hired to trash the couple's house. Shall we recap? He's over six feet tall and weighs about 300 lbs and he was wearing a ski mask and yet thought it would be a good idea to grab Lisa and tell her "calm down" instead of hightailing it out of the house before anyone showed up? Brilliant, sir.
- Abel himself, in the final scene. He was a bit unhinged at the time, but lying to the cops about not having a weapon was idiotic, even before he drew it. As a career cop himself, he should know that when the police show up, the best thing to do is to follow their instructions and put his weapon down, and let them sort it out afterwards.
- Tragic Bigot: Abel Turner is a black police officer with a hatred for interracial couples because of something tragic from his past. His late wife was having an affair with her white boss, and they were both killed in a car crash as they were driving to the guy's home to have sex.
- Trailers Always Spoil: A rare inversion. The fact that Abel is a policeman is no secret or twist in the film, but the trailer doesn't reveal this until about half way through. This gets the audience much more interested in seeing it by showing that the plot of this film is much more intense.
- Two-Person Pool Party: While Abel already disapproves of the Mattsens as a couple along with their liberal attitudes, his children seeing the pair getting hot and heavy in their swimming pool one evening doesn't help matters.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Of California police officer Irsie Henry's harassment of his neighbors John and Melanie Hamilton. Henry was eventually fired from the police force for his behavior.
- Villain Protagonist: The focus on the film is mainly about Abel himself, due to his actor getting the top billing.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Abel's kids are away visiting their aunt when the movie's final scene goes down. What happens when they come home and find out their father was shot to death by cops because he was trying to murder his neighbors?
- What the Hell, Hero?: Chris gives Lisa a dose of this when he finds out that she stopped taking her birth control without telling him.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Well, Abel doesn't want to destroy the world, but just his neighbors.