“Exit Plan” has been retitled from “Suicide Tourist” for its U.S. release, and while the original monicker was certainly punchier, the new one perhaps better captures the gist of a movie that’s ultimately a little too polite and vague to make much of its intriguing premise.
A second feature collaboration between director Jonas Alexander Arnby and writer Rasmus Birch, it is another enigmatic, aesthetically precise toying with genre material — this time more kinda-sorta sci-fi than the quasi-horror of 2014’s “When Animals Dream.” But again, the Danish duo seem more interested in chilly atmospherics and idiosyncratic details than narrative cogency or psychological depth. Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a terminally ill man who commits himself to a mysterious, isolated resort for assisted suicide, it’s a handsome, well-acted cipher that offers the pleasures as well as the frustrations of a high-end puzzle designed to be unsolvable. Screen Media is launching it on VOD and in available theaters June 12.
The “Game of Thrones” actor downplays his good looks via a milquetoast’s glasses, ‘stache and carriage as Max, an insurance adjuster whose life seems nondescript apart from the mutually doting warmth of his marriage to Laerte (Tuva Novotny). On the job, it is his unfortunate occasional duty to do things like inform a distraught widow (Sonja Richter) that her husband’s policy cannot be settled if there’s no body to prove his death. It is during this uncomfortable exchange that he collapses, soon discovering that an inoperable brain tumor is the cause.
When the same woman asks for another meeting, Max discovers an alternative to the slow, painful demise he’s been told to expect: She’s received a belated suicide-note video from her husband via “The Aurora,” a secretive, deluxe final-destination hotel for those who (at considerable presumed cost) want their demise to be pleasant, painless and handled by professionals. After a couple of clumsy failed attempts at self-annihilation, Max duly applies for a berth there. Then without informing Laerke of his decision, he sneaks off to the complicated private transport that finally lands him at this remote place of promised “beautiful endings,” located in some striking far-north mountain region.
All glass, steel and concrete, the impressively sleek facility is designed to cater to every parting-wish need, though the means by which they’re fulfilled are a little murky — drugs, advanced technology, maybe even a little supernatural hoodoo are involved. With suggestions that there’s something sinister behind the curtain of tasteful hedonism, the stage is set here for a shocking revelation, a fantastical leap, a spiritual awakening, maybe all of the above.
But “Exit Plan” never commits to any particular path. Not even once it turns into a thriller of sorts, as Max decides he wants to exit the facility rather than his life, and finds that escape thwarted. Though Coster-Waldau carries the film handily enough, it doesn’t give his protagonist enough dimensionality to convince us he’d choose to die luxuriously alone rather than with his loving wife — or why he suddenly reverses that decision. Fellow doomed patrons played by Robert Aramayo, Lorraine Hilton and others offer color. But they, as well as the more conspicuous staff (including Jan Bijvoet, Solbjorg Hojfeldt and Kate Ashfield), function more as window dressing than real people with lives and subsidiary plot arcs of their own.
Elements here, not least the “guests’” striped pajamas (a bit eerily redolent of the concentration camp), suggest this narrative is meant not to be taken literally, but as metaphor. Either way, however, it’s too cloudy to surrender much meaning, and the aura of mystery is insufficiently potent in itself. (Not helping is Mikkel Hess’ original score, whose plinking child’s-piano-exercise theme undermines the serious tenor.)
“Exit Plan” is not dull, but it does begin to exhaust patience as you realize it will resist actually going anywhere. Predictably, the script turns into a series of reality/illusion reversals that aren’t very mind-blowing before calling it quits on a fairly random note.
The marital chemistry between Coster-Waldau and Swedish star Novotny (“Annihilation”) does lend the film a center of emotional gravity, and its physical trappings cast a certain spell. DP Niels Thastum’s widescreen compositions, production designer Simone Grau Roney’s muted futurism, and the arresting locations utilized make “Exit Plan” look not just terrific, but intelligent — there’s no gratuitous showiness to its slightly-surreal institutional ambiance. But while it works to a degree as an offbeat mood piece and attractive objet d’art, this cryptic tale finally leaves the impression of being an inviting package with little tangible content inside.