While Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad and Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, two other recent Nicolas Cage vehicles, revel in the actor dialing his mania up to 11, Looking Glass sees Cage at his most mellow, keeping his typically unrestrained lunacy in check beneath a full beard and round wire glasses. This turns out to be an odd, almost counterintuitive decision: Rather than diving head first into the perverse scopophilic pleasures that Ray (Cage) gets once he discovers a one-way mirror that allows him to secretly peer into one of the rooms in his recently purchased motel, Tim Hunter’s film too often settles into repetitive and predictable narrative rhythms, carting out an endless parade of clichés as a bunch of small-town creeps on both sides of the law go out of their way to make trouble for the stranger from the big city.
While Ray takes care of the daily operations of the motel, his wife, Maggie (Robin Tunney), is left alone to grieve their recently deceased daughter. But this seemingly crucial backstory simply fades to the background once Ray becomes obsessed with the strange customers who repeatedly demand to stay in the room that Ray is able to peek into. A woman is later killed in that room, and in a striking sequence, Looking Glass intercuts between her brutal strangulation and Ray’s desperate but passionate sex with Maggie (it’s obviously been a while). It’s an intriguing intertwining of grief, sexual desire, and depraved violence, but there’s no subsequent follow-through or follow-up on how Ray’s voyeurism informs his burgeoning sexual perversions.
Looking Glass is only too pleased to trot out even more local oddballs who never miss a chance to sneer at Ray or glare at him with shifty eyes. While the owner and employees of a nearby garage are outspoken in their baseless contempt for Ray, a local police officer, Howard (Marc Blucas), badgers him daily, suggesting that he’s hiding information about not only the murder committed at the hotel, but one that occurred months before Ray even took over the establishment from the previous owner. The details of these murders and the motivations of Ray’s guests remain almost absurdly vague. Every character who crosses Ray’s path seems to exist only to deliver a phony misdirect—to cast suspicion on one character and then another.
Late in the film, Ray meets up with the man who sold him the motel, Ben (Bill Bolender), who tells him that “everything is conceivable” in regard to the murders. And given Hunter’s obnoxious insistence on emphasizing how suspicious everyone is, making anything and everything seem possible within the ill-defined boundaries of the narrative, Ben’s statement ultimately becomes true for the film as well. Looking Glass is so wishy-washy and overstuffed with fake-outs and pointless digressions that by the time it gets around to revealing the killer’s identity, there’s relief not in the fact that the mystery has been solved, but that the filmmakers have finally been forced to make a clear, concise decision, even if it feels like it was made at random.