Nicolas Cage is almost always fascinating to watch. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he elevates whatever he is in, but there is a reason Cage has accumulated a cult following devoted to seeing whatever bad movie he took on to stay current on his taxes. Cage is a legitimately good actor who makes exaggerated, broad choices that are interesting at their most generous or downright bizarre when Cage occasionally becomes a parody of himself. Low-budget films often spend the money to get Cage because even if the final product is garbage, he's a professional who delivers a memorable and audience-attracting performance. This is why you can color me surprised that Looking Glass, a low-budget thriller of the ilk that Cage often begrudgingly finds himself in, would have likely been just fine even without Cage, but of course a bit of gonzo Cage inflection does a lot to up the ante.
Ray (Cage) and his wife Maggie (Robin Tunney) recently lost their daughter to an accident, so they decide to make a fresh start in a desert town, purchasing and renovating a motel mainly used by passing truckers. While cleaning up, Ray discovers a secret crawlspace that leads into the wall of one of the rooms, where the room’s mirror has been replaced with a two-way mirror, allowing Ray to spy on what occurs in the room. Shortly after this discovery, murders begin to happen to some of Ray’s and Maggie’s transient residents, and Ray starts to suspect that the kinky sex acts he witnessed from his hidden vantage point may have something to do with it.
Like any good thriller, Looking Glass offers a plethora of potential answers to the murder mystery. Could it be the overfriendly trucker who always requests the same room with the mirror? Could it be the local townspeople who don’t take kindly to strangers and threaten Ray and Maggie? Could it be that the previous owner of the motel has set Ray and Maggie up to take the fall for him? These are all possibilities that slowly burn their way into the film’s consciousness, and while the correct solution is fairly obvious among the red herrings, watching Ray try to figure out his place in all this is an engaging viewing experience.
The experience doesn’t necessarily come together as a cohesive whole, as Ray’s and Maggie’s marital troubles are largely vestigial and distracting from a mystery plot that doesn’t relate to those problems in any way, thematically or literally, and though the culprit is revealed by the film’s end we aren’t really given a good explanation as to what their motivation is. What makes up for these missteps is Cage’s slow unmasking throughout the film, as you think he’s in soft-spoken dramatic mode only to burst into eccentrics at the drop of a hat. It never reaches the point of cartoon theatrics, but it is pleasantly jarring to watch a deputy (Marc Blucas) and Ray bark “DID YOU DO IT?” and “WHAT DID I DO!?” back and forth for a solid minute, or to watch Ray and the motel’s former owner yell circles around one another about conspiracy theories.
Looking Glass isn’t a great movie, but it’s a very entertaining one, leaning into the wild gesticulations of its lead without exploiting or overusing them. Yeah the film is trashy and lurid, but there’s a self-awareness that lends itself to Cage’s verbose sensibilities, so while the film would have been decent enough with a more subdued headliner, this is one of those instances where Nicolas Cage shines as more than just a gimmick. It’s gotta happen every once in a while, right?