There’s nothing outwardly concerning about the Tabula Apartments where “Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen By the Holy Storsh” is set, with its ideal location close to the freeway and good water pressure in the showed, but it isn’t long before Claire (Kate Micucci) and Paul (Sam Huntington) discover why they got such a good deal on a spacious one-bedroom in Los Angeles. While their landlord (Mindy Sterling) welcomes them with a celebratory carrot cake, it’s only after they’ve had a demented person (Josh Brener) break into their home and slit his own throat in their bathroom with a plastic cake knife, something seemingly destined when Claire asks her boyfriend whether they’ve done the right thing by moving here. Life is not going well for either upon their move from Ohio – Claire lacks the inspiration to be any good at her new marketing job while Paul can barely be bothered to put a resume together, yet the two have stuck together after putting so many years into their relationship already and the additional burden of witnessing a suicide doesn’t seem to faze them.
The thing is, the suicides don’t stop in Vivieno Caldinelli’s feature debut, and fans of alternative comedy won’t want them to as it creates a clothesline to bring in a one great comic talent after another to come in for a scene to kill – and in most cases, themselves as well. And it’s a credit to the playful tone set by Caldinelli and the mischievous script by Christopher and Clayton Hewitson and Justin Jones that you believe Claire and Paul start looking forward to the strangers who swing by with death in mind, since it’s something the two can bond over after they’ve grown apart since being childhood friends-turned-romantic couple. Puzzling over who’s stopping by, they find purpose in the mystery that surrounds the people who have turned up at the Tabula, all bearing a red spiral on their foreheads that they come to discover is the mark of the Cult of Storsh, the brainchild of ’60s style shaman (Taika Waititi) whose 7-stage path to enlightenment ends with death. While all who arrive at Claire and Paul’s door have the same goal in mind, and have to ask, “Do you yield” before barging in, they are wildly different from each other, encouraging the likes of Maria Bamford, Mark McKinnon, and Brian Posehn come up with creative ways to kill themselves, not to mention the fun they have suggesting what led them to follow a madman like Storsh in the first place.
Although repetition becomes part of the joke in “Seven Stages,” it doesn’t become tiring, though as one can tell from the film’s full title, Caldinelli is all for exhausting the audience, letting Paul launch into a drawn out monologue about spoiling his town’s water supply as a child that is funny precisely because it feels like it lasts forever and presiding over various detours, including a subplot involving the detective (Dan Harmon) investigating the deaths at Tabula wanting to launch a new career as a screenwriter, some of which work out better than others. But the chances taken by the film pay off far more than they don’t, including a rare leading role for Micucci, who carries the film with ease and whose various expressions throughout the film from horror to bliss are worth the price of admission alone. Perhaps the lure of the Storsh may be mystifying even as Paul and Claire start to succumb to it themselves, but the draw of “Seven Stages” is quite strong.
“Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen By the Holy Storsh” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 28th at 10:45 pm at the Cinepolis Chelsea 1.