Exit Plan

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Exit Plan
"Coster-Waldau is a superb lead, distant in the way one would expect of a man going through such a difficult experience, yet compelling."

What would you expect of an assisted suicide facility? In real life they're rather unimposing places, hospice-like, where people, most of them afflicted by painful and debilitating illnesses, can spend some quiet time with loved ones before undergoing a simple medical procedure which allows them to opt out of further suffering. In literature and film, however, they're formidable, imposing places with steely-eyed staff dead set on making sure nobody gets to change their mind, often with sinister ulterior motives. Exit Plan invokes shades of the latter but its very personal focus and its willingness to break the bounds of genre ultimately turns it into something quite different.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a world away from Game Of Thrones, plays Max, an insurance investigator with a comfortable home, a loving girlfriend (Tuva Novotny) and an inoperable, slowly growing brain tumour. He has been thinking about suicide for some time, wanting to die on his own terms before he loses control of his mental faculties, though there are hints right from the start that the tumour may already be influencing his perception (there are shades here of another Max, in Videodrome) and that some of his apparent suicide attempts may be fantasies. When he learns through a client of the existence of a remote mountain facility, the Hotel Aurora, where guests can undertake a peaceful journey towards euthanasia, he checks himself in - but nothing is quite what it appears to be.

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In lesser hands, this film could easily have been a disaster. Director Jonas Alexander Arnby (When Animals Dream) approaches it with a quiet grace which makes room for the seriousness of the subject and shows respect for those who feel they need to choose this path, though there is a tacit understanding among the Aurora's guests that nobody will pry into others' reasons, and at least one of them seems so riven by insecurity and uncertainty that it's hard to imagine that any ethical facility of this sort would agree to assist her. Max, too, has unresolved issues - most notably that he never summoned up the courage to talk to his girlfriend about what he intended to do. When he eventually decides that he needs to go back home and talk to her, things don't go the way he expected.

Coster-Waldau is a superb lead, distant in the way one would expect of a man going through such a difficult experience, yet compelling. Novotny provides perfectly measured support and the two have an easy natural chemistry that gives us a sense of their characters' history together, of what this means to both of them. The bleakly beautiful mountain scenery adds to the atmosphere, making us feel as through we were standing at the edge of the world. In the facility, mind-altering drugs are passed around, offered in drinks, given as treatments. Max begins to doubt the things he sees and to see things he doubts. Arnby delivers surreal imagery in elegant fashion so that we're never quite sure of the reality we're inhabiting. Classic science fiction tropes emerge from nowhere only to disappear again. What happened to the husband of Max's client, the man who checked in here before? Even if Max can find out, will it change anything?

Exit Plan will keep you off balance with its shifting notions of truth and its agile creepiness. Its characters inhabit a gateway, a liminal place, which prompts us to question just where the line is between life and death, self and other. It's a sensitive, intelligent piece of work which doesn't seek out darkness for its own sake but probes it, looking for illumination.

Reviewed on: 10 Jun 2020
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Exit Plan packshot
Insurance agent Max is in the midst of an existential crisis. Whilst investigating the claim made by a suspected widow he chances upon the secretive Hotel Aurora, a luxury resort which specialises in suicide.

Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby

Writer: Rasmus Birch

Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Tuva Novotny, Robert Aramayo, Kate Ashfield, Jan Bijvoet

Year: 2019

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark, Norway, Germany

Festivals:

Glasgow 2020

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