Exit Plan (Movie Review)

Jaime Lannister, err, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars in Exit Plan, which arrives to select theaters and VOD on Friday, June 12, 2020 thanks to Screen Media.

Welcome to The Aurora, where the entire purpose of your stay is to check out. Forever. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, insurance claims investigator Max (Coster-Waldau: Game of Thrones series, Oblivion 2013) is forced to confront his own mortality. Suffering an existential crisis, he finds himself at the aforementioned remote and mysterious facility, which specializes in made-to-order assisted suicide. As Max wages a war inside his own mind, the already bleak external situation grows more complicated, as well. And each disturbing new revelation is further complicated by his tenuous grasp on reality. Is this investigator trapped inside of a mystery or is the mystery trapped inside of him?

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Clocking in at 90 minutes, Exit Plan—which is presented in Danish/English with subtitles where needed—was directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby (Manden der blandt andet var en sko short 2004, When Animals Dream 2014) and written by Rasmus Birch (Brotherhood 2009, When Animals Dream 2014). The film also features the acting talents of Tuva Novotny (Eat Pray Love 2010, Annihilation 2018), Jan Bijvoet (Peaky Blinders series, Into the Night series), Robert Aramayo (Nocturnal Animals 2016, Game of Thrones series), Lorraine Hilton (Hot Fuzz 2007, The Wolfman 2010), Kate Ashfield (Shaun of the Dead 2004, Sanditon series), and more.

Billed as a blend of Drama and Mystery, Exit Plan is a bizarre foray that starts as a Drama, eventually attains something akin to a Thriller, and, in its third act, even has moments that lean toward Science Fiction. With its muted colors, breathtaking scenery and aerial shots, as well as beautifully bleak cinematography from Niels Thastum (When Animals Dream 2014, Borg vs. McEnroe 2017), and trance-inducing score by Mikkel Hess (Camping 2009, When Animals Dream 2014), the film provides a trip into the mind of a terminally ill man who has seemingly lost his grasp on past and present, reality and dreams.

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But here’s the thing: Exit Plan is a film that is apt to mean very disparate things to different people. While the two films are not comparable, story wise, there’s a corollary to be made with 2018’s Hereditary, whose bizarre imagery appears to be a metaphor for mental illness. Here, something similar is afoot: Exit Plan is also a figurative, visual expression, but for what, that is entirely up to each viewer to decide. We offer no spoilers, but your answer to this mystery will influence how you categorize the movie’s genre.

All of this aside, the film relies heavily on Coster-Waldau to convey its confusing narrative. Considering that the bulk of the story here is taking place inside Max’s mind, the actor is challenged with portraying the unspoken, delivering entire scenes where he barely speaks a word. Furthermore, as Max is suffering from a growing brain tumor, Coster-Waldau has to elicit our empathy for a man who is fearful, anxious, and struggling with his physical health as he slowly begins to lose his mental faculties. It’s a lot to communicate with through facial expressions and body language, but Coster-Waldau is able to effectively confuse the hell out of his viewers by keeping his performance steeped in nuance. And there’s very little about Max that’s ever blatant, which allows Exit Plan to maintain its ambiguous plot. In this, Coster-Waldau intentionally offers just enough to keep moviegoers guessing as the languid pace ekes onward.

Exit Plan still

Which plays into the efficacy of the film. If a singular path had been selected and this was a blatantly obvious tale of assisted suicide, it would be an entirely different film with a wholly unique message. One might even say it would be trite. Instead, the struggle for coherence at the heart of Exit Plan creates something that is at all times a mystery, and leaves itself open to repeated viewings in search of further epiphanies. Whatever the ultimate deduction, this is not a feel-good adventure; instead, this is a muted gray sky that is meant to communicate the bleak realities of its lead character.

Amid a snow-dusted landscape, patients convene to order their last wishes from a menu at The Aurora. It’s a safari of self-discovery that asks each individual to concoct their own death wish—but is it real or is it merely a figment of a dying man’s tormented psyche? You decide! Whatever the case may be, Cryptic Rock gives Exit Plan 4 of 5 stars.

Screen Media

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