‘Looking Glass’ Looks Good, But Is Minor Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage is having quite the year. It’s only the beginning of February and he’s already had a lot of buzz: There is the high energy, pitch-black comedy about parents trying to kill their children which hit theatres in January (Mom & Dad), one of the best reviewed films at Sundance (Mandy), and a film festival dedicated to him in Glasgow.

Sadly, the least exciting thing about 2018 so far for Cage is Looking Glass, a thriller directed by Tim Hunter, a prolific TV director who also directed the 1986 Crispin Glover/Keanu Reeves film River’s Edge.

It’s not unusual for Cage to put out a lot of films — he averages five a year. As an eternal student of acting (something I explain in depth in my book National Treasure: Nicolas Cage), Cage makes a lot of films to test his craft and he tends to pick genres and hang out in them for a while to learn all he can. The last thing I wrote about Cage for Biff Bam Pop longed for his next genre-of-choice to be horror, ever since he’s been dancing around horror films with works labelled “thriller” and “dark comedy.” Choosing Looking Glass can perhaps be excused as part of his current experiment in darker movies, but it’s one of his less interesting experiments.

The premise of Looking Glass is that Cage (Ray) and Robin Tunney (Maggie) are a couple who just bought a motel to try to recover from the trauma of their young daughter’s sudden death. It turns out their hasty purchase comes with mysterious residents and weird happenings (including some murders) and the more curious the couple gets about what’s happening at their motel, the more danger they find themselves in.

The weirdest things happen after Ray discovers a tunnel in a storage room on the property that leads to a one-way mirror, peeping into room 10. This seems to be the favourite room of everyone who stops through, and once he discovers the tunnel, Ray can’t control his curiosity.

Of course weird things happen in the room, and a mystery unfolds, but everything Cage’s character does in this film feels counter-intuitive. For instance, when a gutted pig shows up in the motel pool he drives it out to the dessert to burn it rather than call the cops. It certainly adds to the mystery, but the outcome of all these clues and red herrings isn’t satisfying enough to justify his behaviour.

It’s a nice-looking film, and that surely comes down to the director who has worked on classic television programs such as Twin Peaks, Mad Men and Hannibal. But, aside from its visual appeal, Looking Glass is mostly a mediocre movie that suffers from underdeveloped characters. The fact that this couple lost their only child before moving to this motel could have held a lot more emotional impact for the audience, but we barely learn anything about the daughter, or the couple, before we’re distracted by all the strange goings-on at the motel.

Even in his worst films Cage always throws in something, even the smallest thing, for audiences to enjoy. The best moment for Cage in this film is when he’s heading along the tunnel, knowing that there are two women in room 10 that he’s about to peep on, and he stops to slick back his hair and his eyebrows before he looks through the one-way mirror. It’s too little to save this film, which otherwise doesn’t give Cage or the rest of its cast much challenging material to work with, but it’s something.

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