Make your own exit plan for Exit Plan, a Danish downer from director Jonas Alexander Arnby, who clearly thinks the indisputable charisma of star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau will be enough to sustain our interest. He’s wrong. This solid actor who won an Emmy nomination for playing Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones hides his movie-star looks behind nerdy glasses and a moustache to play Max, an insurance claims adjuster. There’s nothing special about Max’s life at home with wife, Laerke (Tuva Novotny), and their cat Simba, except his desire to end it. He has nothing against Laerke or the cat. It’s an inoperable terminal brain tumor that has driven Max’s failed attempts to hang and drown himself. This could have been played for black comedy but Arnby and screenwriter Rasmus Birch, who previously joined forces on a teenage-werewolf throwaway called When Animals Dream, have no intention of making any of this go down easy. It’s slog, slog, slog, all the way.
The plot revolves, though that’s far too active a verb, around Max’s latest case: a wife (Sonja Richter) who wants to collect the insurance money on her dead husband. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that no one can find his body. His last message came, on video, from the Hotel Aurora, a posh resort tucked away in the mountains of Scandinavia. It advertises itself as a “beautiful ending” — not due to occasional sightings of the Aurora Borealis, but because it offers the best in luxury assisted suicides. Naturally, Max’s interest is piqued.
So off he goes. Thanks to production designer Simone Grau Roney and cinematographer Niels Thastum, the Aurora — an imposing marvel of glass and steel — looks like a swell place to shuffle off this mortal coil. Max sure thinks so, at least at first, as he soaks in a jacuzzi and sips tea laced with opium. There are flashbacks to his life at home, especially when he eavesdrops on a phone call during which Laerke tells a friend she doesn’t know much longer she can take living with Max, that strengthens his resolve.
But what if Max changes his mind? Maybe, just maybe, the movie can stop already with all the philosophical thumbsucking and turn into an existential thriller? Nope. The pulse quickens slightly when the Aurora staff, embodied by Jan Bijvoet, Solbjorg Hojfeldt and Kate Ashfield, turns from sweet to sinister when Max talks about leaving. “You can go but you can’t escape,” he’s told, via a subtitle that makes you think that something crucial got lost in translation from Danish to English. Is he already dead? He might as well be.
Before a conclusion so confounding that you’ll regret spending even five minutes with this character, Max stares ahead as we stare into the void that is Exit Plan. It’s opening in a few theaters and is now available now on demand, but trust us: Even if you’re watching this at home, you’ll be running for the exits.