'Exit Plan': Film Review

Screen Media
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6/12/2020

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays a man who checks into a luxury hotel specializing in assisted suicide in Jonas Alexander Arnby's existential thriller.

It takes a few minutes to get used to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's starring turn in Exit Plan. Far removed from his dynamic Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones, his character is a mild-mannered insurance adjuster named Max. The actor, hiding his handsome features behind an unflattering bushy mustache and dorky wire-rimmed glasses, tries valiantly and almost makes you believe that he could pass for nondescript.

Max would seem to have an idyllic life, living in a comfortable home in his native Denmark with his loving wife, Laerke (Tuva Novotny), and their pet cat. Unfortunately, he's also suffering from a terminal brain tumor, which makes him particularly interested in a case involving a woman (Sonja Richter) who's desperate to declare her missing husband dead and claim her insurance money despite there being no proof and no body. When a videotaped message shows up of her husband saying goodbye from a luxurious resort specializing in assisted suicide, Max takes the opportunity to investigate. Not so much for professional reasons, but rather because his own suicide attempts, involving hanging and drowning, have so far proved unsuccessful.

Off he goes to the high-tech Hotel Aurora, located in a gorgeous Scandinavian mountain range, whose slogan is "The Aurora: A Beautiful Ending" but might as well be "You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave." There, Max is given a range of "post-death options," including "freeze-drying."

"It's eco-sustainable," the administrator helpfully explains.

It doesn't take long for Max, who discovers the phrase "You will get out" carved into his bathroom mirror, to realize that the Aurora isn't quite the beneficent establishment it claims to be, and that the decision to end his life may not be left entirely to him.

Directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby and scripted by Rasmus Birch, who previously collaborated on the teenage werewolf horror film When Animals Dream, Exit Plan plays like an existential thriller that unfortunately lacks both philosophical depth and thrills. While the film is never less than intriguing, its glacial pacing and deliberate narrative confusions prove off-putting. Scenes depicting Max's interactions with his wife are interspersed throughout his experiences at the Aurora, leading us to wonder whether they're flashbacks or fantasies. Either way, they don't have much impact. And the tonal shifts are jarring, as with Max's awkward suicide attempts that border on black comedy without being particularly funny.

This wouldn't matter so much if Exit Plan had weighty things on its mind, but it's all surface. A gleaming surface, to be sure, thanks to Simone Grau Roney's stunning production design and Niels Thastum's handsome, monochromatic lensing, befitting the somber tone — but surface nonetheless.

Coster-Waldau does an admirable job of tamping down his natural charisma. But the amorphous writing ultimately defeats his strenuous efforts. He seems perpetually ill at ease, as if struggling to bring clarity to a vaguely defined character.

It's telling that the film's original Danish title, which translates to "Suicide Tourist," has been changed for its U.S. release. Exit Plan sounds much more dynamic, indicating the sort of action thriller that the star's fans probably expect. They're likely to be quite disappointed by this stylish, cerebral drama that doesn't really have anything profound to say.

Production: Snowglobe Films, Mer Film, Garage Film AB, Film i Vast, Charades, DCM Productions, Det Danske Filminstitut, ZDF/Arte
Distributor: Screen Media (Available in theaters and on VOD)
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Tuva Novotny, Roberto Aramayo, Jan Bijvoet, Sobjorg Hojfeldt, Sonja Richter, Lorraine Hilton
Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Screenwriter: Rasmus Birch
Producers: Eva Jakobsen, Katrin Pors, Mikkel Jersin
Director of photography: Niels Thastum
Production designer: Simone Grau Roney
Costume designer: Ela Fisher

Editor: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Composer: Mikkel Hess
Casting: Des Hamilton

90 minutes