In “Exit Plan,” a dull thriller directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby, Nikolaj Coster-Waldu (of “Game of Thrones” fame) plays Max, an insurance agent who couldn’t be more different from his role as Jaime Lanister. The actor, hiding his good looks under a mustache and glasses, is an Everyman here. Max seems normal at first, living in Denmark with his wife and cat. But his dark side takes him to a resort in the mountains where strange, shadowy things take place.
The Hotel Aurora isn’t your everyday resort. Nestled in a rugged yet magnificent Scandinavian mountain range, the resort promises a luxury experience in assisted suicide. It’s a stark place to die — trees have lost their leaves, flowers their color, humans their purpose. Max fits right in, though he is secretly there to look into a missing persons case for his insurance firm. He is also interested in an easy way out, an exit plan, if you will. Will he do his job and investigate, or will he give in to Hotel Aurora’s killer customer service?
“Exit Plan” is divided into two parts, each covering the pros and cons of Max’s decision. In the first, Max grapples with fate at the hotel. In the second, we see flashbacks of Max’s previous life, in a faithful marriage to Laerke (Tuva Novotny). The two strands are bound by Max’s sadness: He is both depressed in flashbacks with Laerke and in present-day scenes at Aurora. Why is he sad? Who knows. “Exit Plan” is too cold and convoluted to offer any real insights into Max’s unhappiness. We learn he has a brain tumor. But flashbacks reveal he was a downer long before he tested positive for cancer.
It’s possible to imagine a tense, thought-provoking version of Max’s story, but Arnby opts for atmospherics over ideas. The guests wear striped pajamas, yet no parallels are made to WWII. Discussions about death are supposed to be theatrical, but could have been lifted from any Ingmar Bergman rip-off. And as much as Max questions if life is worth living, we are given no reason to suggest it isn’t (he has a darling wife and cat at home, what more can a man want?).
Frankly, Max is a sorry excuse for a hero. Nothing he does makes him someone worth rooting for. Despite a possible change of heart in the third act, it’s hard to imagine anyone liking the guy. Arnby throws in a science fiction twist to change that. When Max asks to leave to see his wife, he’s instructed “you can go, but you can’t escape.” Obviously, that doesn’t stop him from trying, or finding some yucky surprises hiding under Aurora. Is Max a changed man, willing to brave a snowstorm and extraterrestrial beings to see his wife? Or is he saving his own butt? We may never know.
Once the movie shifts gears, it’s less about death and more about survival. That sounds like a good thing, but the further “Exit Plan” shifts into thriller mode, the less it makes sense. With so many twists, flashbacks and jarring edits, you may have a hard time keeping up with what’s going on. There is one line of dialogue that comes through clearly during the muddled finale: “When you can’t stand yourself, what’s the point of life?” It’s a good question. But a more fitting one would be: If you can’t stand the characters in a movie, what’s the point of watching? [D]