April 24, 2018 Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh (Movie Review)
Cults seem to be having their moment in the American zeitgeist. There are the television series Waco and Wild Wild Country. There is the burgeoning story of Smallville’s Allison Mack and her involvement in the sex cult Nxivm. There is the constant talk around “cults of personality” thanks to a certain boorish reality TV show politician.
Whatever the reason, cults are on the cultural brain. So emerges the wacky Dark Comedy Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen By the Holy Storsh (Company X, MarVista Entertainment, Tamperclean Films). Currently showing at the Tribeca Film Festival since Friday, April 20th, Seven Stages is out to put the side (splitting) in suicide death cults. First-time feature film Director Vivieno Caldinelli (Splatalot series, This Hour Has 22 Minutes series) certainly does not lack audacity.
Seven Stages tells the tale of former Ohioans, now Los Angelinos, Claire (Kate Micucci: Ducktales series, Supernatural series) and Paul (Sam Huntington: Detroit Rock City 1999, Superman Returns 2006). Claire works in advertising. Paul works on finding work. Fortunately they get a good deal on an apartment. Things are not what they appear, though, and it comes with a caveat. A steady stream of cult members break into their happy home intent on committing ritualistic suicide in the bathtub.
Seven chapters (stages) sum up the gospel of the eponymous Holy Storsh (Actor/Director Taika Waititi: Hunt for the Wilderpeople 2016, Thor: Ragnarok 2017). Like any good cult leader, the Storsh offers seemingly reasonable advice about dealing with the world. Of course the weight of worldly concerns presses down on our couple. Claire has got workplace stress. Paul cannot even find work. Over time they take to these holy utterings with increasing enthusiasm (and increasingly complex consequences).
Here is the thing. Seven Stages‘ tone is completely oddball. Everyone in the film dials up the kooky. The suicides play out like slapstick. Comedy veterans have cameos and bit-roles throughout the movie. Rhea Seehorn (American Dad series, Better Call Saul series) plays a craven reality TV star-turned-aspiring congresswoman (clearly evoking the aforementioned “certain boorish politician”).
Does the humor and acting style work? It is really a coin flip. Non-sequitur humor colors the dialogue. Think Joss Whedon but zanier. Dan Harmon (executive producer of Rick and Morty) plays Detective Cartwright, who once arrested the Holy Storsh. He has been dealing with suicides at the apartment for as long as he can remember. He does little more than shrug matter-of-factly at these suicides. More importantly, Cartwright wants to make his movie. What is more LA than that?
When the suicides start growing more outlandish, Cartwright begins to suspect a little more. Not too much, though. People really not taking ritual suicide too seriously is central to the comedy. There is something satirical going on here. The score is cutesy and almost fantastical. The film is vibrantly colorful despite the grim subject. It all takes place in the electric, dreamy world of Los Angeles and centers around a couple killing themselves daily to make it. This is no coincidence.
That being said, this humor, at times, comes off as obnoxious and downright annoying. It is definitely an aesthetic choice and it can be pretty off-putting. The weird energy underscores the satire, though. It is strange. The film would not work without the oddball humor. It is genuinely provocative in just how dark Seven Stages gets despite the cheery and almost whimsical atmosphere. As an aside, any gorehounds out there thinking Seven Stages will guarantee them bloody good fun may be disappointed, though.
Ultimately, as a director, Viviendo Caldinelli succeeds in creating a fully formed world, but not one that invites much investment. The non-sequitur humor is hit-or-miss, to say the least. Seven Stages is a truly odd Comedy. It is not very enjoyable and yet its ideas still come together to create an effective satire. For this, CrypticRock gives Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh 2.5 out of 5 stars.