Film Review: Looking Glass

A couple who buy an out-of-the-way motel get caught up in a dangerous web of small-town creepiness in this modest but sometimes suspenseful thriller.
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City folks Ray and Maggie (Nicolas Cage and Robin Tunney) are in desperate need of a new start. She's fragile and medicated, he's trying to hold their marriage together and they're running from a family tragedy that neither of them wants to talk about. So they buy the off-the-beaten-track Motor Way Motel ("Night Owls Sleep Here," hoots the homespun sign by the office), a modest business that should allow them to make a living while affording them some breathing room to work through their problems...as if.

Ray quickly discovers a secret passage that leads to a one-way mirror that lets him spy on the occupants of room 10, including hard-bitten hooker Cassie (Kassia Conway) and her wide world of clients. Meanwhile, things are getting small-town creepy: A local woman who sometimes swims in the hotel pool is murdered; unctuously affable cop Howard Keller (Mark Blucas) keeps stopping by and asking the kind of questions that make most folks wonder whether they should call their lawyers; Ben (Bill Bolender), the motel's previous owner, drops off the face of the Earth and sundry inbred-looking locals hang around saying vaguely menacing things.

Yes, Looking Glass is a trip into rotten-heartland territory, and a very handsomely photographed one, full of neon washes of light and clear blue skies. To the credit of screenwriters Jerry Rapp and Matthew Wilder, it's tightly plotted, but it still feels overlong, because there's no real doubt about the general outlines of what's going on. The hidden passageway beyond the door marked "Private" leads to weird stuff that recalls both Gay Talese's The Voyeur's Motel—a nonfiction account of a down-market hotelier who spent decades spying on guests through fake ventilation grills—and the incredibly sleazy movie Crawlspace (1986), in which deranged landlord Klaus Kinski secretly leers at his uniformly bodacious tenants via a network of peepholes and secret passages.

Cage tones down the theatrics that sometime derail films in which he appears and Tunney is convincingly skittish as the high-strung Maggie, who's perpetually one (prescription) pill away from a meltdown. Like the bulk of Cage's recent output, Looking Glass is clearly geared to cable/streaming markets, but it's an effectively paranoid little picture tailor-made for city mice who start to quiver the minute they find themselves far from the safety of concrete canyons.

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