These days, euthanasia isn’t really that taboo of a concept anymore. Sure, maybe North American attitudes haven’t completely warmed to it but with many European countries offering assisted suicide options, the humanity and dignity of this once-shocking idea is becoming more and more apparent. No matter – the Danish filmmaking duo of director Jonas Alexander Arnby and writer Rasmus Birch (whose last outing was 2014’s werewolf coming-of-age drama When Animals Dream) try to squeeze some late-in-the-game suspense out of this story thread with their new thriller, Exit Plan.
Originally known on the festival circuit as the more bluntly-titled Suicide Tourist, Exit Plan concerns insurance agent Max (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, shedding that Game of Thrones burliness in favour of a full-on dorky office drone look) who, after collapsing suddenly at work one day, finds out he has an inoperable terminal brain tumour. After a few failed suicide attempts and finding himself unable to tell his seemingly carefree wife, Lærke (Tuva Novotny), about his diagnosis, Max coincidentally comes across a mysterious clinic called Hotel Aurora, which specializes in assisted-suicide procedures. Packing up and leaving in the middle of the night (patients aren’t allowed to bring their loved ones or even tell them where they’re going), Max makes the trip to the gorgeous mountain resort in order to check in… and never check out.
Considering there are plenty of legal euthanasia clinics operating in Europe, this whole secretive set-up is a little strange, making it immediately apparent that something is off about this particular organization. And while at first, the Hotel Aurora appears to be a relaxing spa where patients can spend their last days in peace while preparing for the final steps with any number of kindly doctors and attendants, Max soon finds out something sinister is going on beneath the calm façade. Especially if you’re having any second thoughts.
Exit Plan seems unsure as to whether it’s a dark twisty psychological thriller or a character study meditation on grief, yet it doesn’t have enough depth to work adequately as either. We barely know anything about Max before he embarks on his final destination and it’s hard to garner much sympathy for his eventual plight when he walked right into what seemed like such an obvious trap from the beginning. Lærke fairs worse, frequently popping up in hallucinations and flashbacks as nothing more than a blank slate that’s supposed to approximate love or warmth or… who knows? Not even Jan Bijvoet (Borgman himself) as a creepy doctor can save things from the dullness on display.
The environment itself, while gorgeously production designed, also feels painfully familiar, constantly bringing to mind either the offbeat bleakness of The Lobster or the surreal prison of A Cure For Wellness, two other recent offerings that presented the whole sinister clinic ordeal in a much more evocative way. Coming in at just under 90 minutes, Exit Plan doesn’t even really present its horrors until the final twenty or so minutes, rushing through the final stretch so that any sense of its previous slow-burn mood dissipates completely.
Arnby and Birch do end their film on an intriguingly ambiguous note, hinting that there was maybe more on their mind than what ended up in the final product. Unfortunately, as it is, Exit Plan is dead on arrival.