‘Looking Glass’: Nicolas Cage the extra key to making hotel feel creepy

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Motel owner Ray (Nicolas Cage) spends his nights dragging on cigarettes and pounding cans of cheap beer in “Looking Glass.” | MOMENTUM PICTURES

We are just seven weeks into 2018 — and already Nicolas Cage has starred in two lower-budget but well-directed and thoroughly entertaining B-movies.

First there was the off-the-charts, bat-bleep-crazy “Mom and Dad,” with our man pinning the needle on the Cage-o-Meter deep into the red zone with a fabulously oversized performance as a homicidal dad.

Now comes “Looking Glass,” which seems almost tame by comparison but has its own seedy, midnight-movie wiles.

Sporting jet black hair, big round glasses and a bushy goatee, Cage plays Ray. Robin Tunney (quite good) is his wife, Maggie.

Seeking to leave behind a tragedy and make a fresh start, Ray and Maggie have made the dubious decision of purchasing a desert motel via a Craiglist ad.

“It looks smaller than in the pictures,” says Maggie.

That’s gonna be the least of it, my dear.

“NIGHT OWLS SLEEP HERE,” reads the sign outside the Motor Way Motel, which features a row of rooms, all with ominous red doors. This looks like the kind of place where felonies occur or felons on the run hide out. Or both.

Haunted by the past and unsettled by the present, Ray stays up most nights, dragging on cigarettes and pounding cans of cheap beer. Just about everyone who crosses Ray’s path gives off a slightly menacing vibe, including:

• Tommy the trucker (Ernie Lively), who insists on always using Room No. 10 and parades a different hooker into his room every time.

• The gas station owner (Barry Jay Minoff) across the street who says if Ray has a problem with “ne’er do wells,” Ray shouldn’t hesitate to ask, and he and his boys will make the problem go away.

• Sheriff Howard Keller (Marc Blucas), who continually pesters Ray re: the whereabouts of Ben (Bill Bolender), the former owner of the motel, who has vanished.

Not to mention the dominatrix in Room No. 6.

“Looking Glass” takes on a bit of a desert motel “Shining” vibe, as Ray becomes consumed with spying on the guests, and the property becomes the site of strange and disturbing occurrences.

Ray, to Tommy the horny trucker: “Somebody threw a dead pig in my pool.”

Tommy the trucker: “Well at least you got breakfast for a couple of days.”

And so it goes at the Motor Way Motel.

Eventually we learn the identity of a murderer, and we find out the details of the tragedy haunting Ray and Maggie — but even when the loose ends are tied up, there’s still an unsettling aura about “Looking Glass,” all the way until the very last shot.

The director of the film is Tim Hunter, whose feature career goes back to such 1980s gems as “Tex” and “River’s Edge,” and whose TV credits include everything from episodes of the original “Twin Peaks” to “Mad Men.”

That explains why it’s such a good-looking film. Nicolas Cage’s starring presence explains why it’s such a compelling and offbeat little thriller.

★★★

Momentum Picturespresents a film directed by Tim Hunter and written by Jerry Rapp. Rated R (for sexual content, violence and language). Running time: 103 minutes. Opens Friday at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge and on demand.

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