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Film review: The Surprise – two suicidal adults meet in dark romantic comedy

Dutch director’s high-concept story of a multimillionaire who pays a company to kill him after several failed suicide attempts, but who falls in love with a fellow client, fails to deliver

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 1:45pm

2.5/5 stars

A fairytale romance blossoms in rather unusual circumstances in The Surprise, the first full-length feature by Dutch filmmaker Mike van Diem since his debut, Character, won the best foreign language film Oscar in 1998. While its high-concept story touches on everything from assisted suicide and parental absence, to the emptiness of material wealth, this very dark film is, at its core, a conventional romantic comedy.

After his elderly mother dies, über-rich aristocrat Jacob (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) is all set to give away his entire family fortune and carry out a long-gestating plan to kill himself. After several failed attempts, however, the 40-year-old bachelor is coincidentally introduced to Elysium, a secret company which comes to irreversible agreements with its clients to kill them off in meticulously planned “accidents”.

As soon as he signs up for “The Surprise” option, which guarantees a swift death but doesn’t specify the when or the how, Jacob meets the lovely fellow client Anne (Georgina Verbaan), who turns out to have endured an unhappy childhood of her own. But when the suicidal pair fall hard for each other, and Jacob begins to experience emotions that have deserted him since he lost his father at the age of four, things get dangerously out of hand.

While it is peppered with twists and turns, The Surprise is most delightful when it spends time with Jacob and Anne’s simple courtship. It’s a pity the film isn’t more substantiated in concept: instead of negotiating their religious beliefs (he’s a Catholic and she’s a Buddhist) in the face of imminent death, for example, the couple find themselves in car chases and shoot-outs. The moral ambiguity remains an afterthought.

The Surprise opens on May 12

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