Wisely shedding its original Danish title Suicide Tourist, the second feature from director Jonas Alexander Arnby (When Animals Dream, a Cannes debut and one of my favorite films from Fantasia 2014)—teaming again with screenwriter Rasmus Birch—is less a horror film and more a thriller about the existential crisis that accompanies thoughts of suicide. Certainly dark, but not as gloomy as it may sound, Exit Plan is a plan about a man who finds out he has a terminal illness and decides to leave this world on his own terms with the help of an isolated boutique hotel that specializes in making your assisted suicide just right.
“Game of Thrones” star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Max Isaksen, and in the process, sheds his classicly roguish good looks for a pair of oversized glasses and a mustache that makes him look like he’s trying to appear more manly and failing. Max is an insurance investigator who is looking into the disappearance of a man on behalf of the man’s wife (Sonja Richter); she can’t collect his life insurance until there is proof the client is actually dead. While wrapped up in that case, Max also finds out he’s got a terminal brain tumor that promises to eventually kill him in a slow and awful way. Max is a man who prides himself on his sharp mind, so slowly losing his memory and other brain functions doesn’t sit well with him at all.
His client gets a mysterious video recording from a place called Aurora, and it features her husband admitting that he has committed suicide and does not wish for his body to be found. The wife believes this is the proof she needs, but Max is more interested in the Aurora and begins digging into it. It turns out, it’s actually the palatial, sleek Hotel Aurora that specializes in a particular brand of fantasy fulfillment involving assisted suicide. Once the process has begun and the money is paid, you can’t back out, which is just the first sign that something darker and more sinister is going on behind the scenes. While some of the options in terms of methods of suicide, what you can indulge in during the days leading up to your death, and what the staff does with your body are pretty elaborate, Max’s needs are simple.
Max is married to the caring but slightly aloof Lærke (Tuva Novotny, Annihilation), whom he attempts to tell about his condition, but they keep getting interrupted. So his parting fantasy is to have the perfect farewell with his wife…or at least someone that looks like her. Coster-Waldau’s performance is what keeps Exit Plan grounded and emotionally authentic. And as the film goes on, Max begins to have visions that are either the early stages of his brain giving out or some extreme form of wishful thinking about the way he wishes his life would go. Even the film’s final moments are a bit ambiguous as to what is real and what isn’t. The filmmaker wants us to be unsettled by what we’ve seen, only because we truly want Max to get what he wants, even if he’s not sure what exactly that is. And by the end, while we aren’t completely certain if he got there, it doesn’t feel like an annoying loose end.
I was drawn into the world of Exit Plan through its atmospheric, sometimes-eerie production design (especially the hotel) from Simone Grau Roney and the beautiful widescreen cinematography by Niels Thastum. The way the film plays with reality is fascinating without being confusing. And the compassion we feel for Max is genuine because Coster-Waldau oozes quiet desperation and genuine angst. If you’re feeling cloudy inside, believe it or not, this film about a man’s search for the perfect suicide manages to lift spirits as well.
The film is now available On Demand and via most digital platforms.
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