At this point, it’s not surprising to see Nicolas Cage starring in yet another cheap, trashy straight-to-VOD thriller; what’s more unusual is when he shows up in something a bit more ambitious, like recent festival favorites Mom and Dad and Mandy. Looking Glass falls in the former category, unfortunately, throwing Cage into a half-formed, vaguely noir-ish murder mystery of sorts set at a remote motel in the Arizona desert. Adorned with a beard and nebbishy glasses, Cage puts in minimal effort as Ray, the new owner of the Motor Way Motel in downtown nowhere, who’s moved from some vaguely defined “big city” with his wife Maggie (Robin Tunney) for a new start after the accidental death of their young daughter.
They apparently purchased this entire business via a Craigslist ad, and they show up to find that the previous owner has already split, leaving them only an envelope with keys and a hastily scrawled note. The motel might as well have a sign outside reading “Creepy Customers Only,” because everyone who shows up to rent a room, including a leering truck driver (Ernie Lively) and a sultry dominatrix (Jacque Gray), has some kind of salacious secret, and they all regard Ray and Maggie with a mix of suspicion and contempt. Even the local sheriff (Marc Blucas) is either uncomfortably friendly or uncomfortably antagonistic.
Ray also discovers a secret passageway leading to a two-way mirror that allows him to spy on the inhabitants of one particular room, in a development that parallels the recent Netflix documentary Voyeur. But screenwriter Jerry Rapp and director Tim Hunter have as little interest in exploring Ray’s potential for voyeurism as they do in solving the mystery of a teenage girl who was murdered at the motel before Ray and Maggie took over. The mysterious motivations of the supporting characters almost all turn out to be red herrings, dropped from the plot in favor of a hasty resolution that answers only a small amount of the questions that the movie haphazardly raises.
Even Ray and Maggie’s tragic back story is underserved, brought up only when it’s needed to drive a wedge between them for a scene or two, and never fully connected to their interest in what’s happening at the motel. Cage gets one scene late in the film to unleash his now-familiar histrionics, but his freak-out is fairly mild, and the other characters rarely exhibit much excitement or passion. The sun-drenched desert setting is ideal for a seedy noir, and Hunter occasionally shoots shifty characters with the shadows of window blinds over them, like classic noir villains or femmes fatales. But mostly he sticks to a flat, functional style, getting the job done with as little fuss as his lead actor does. For Cage, it’s just another quick roadside stop on a seemingly endless B-movie journey.