Excessive absurdity is to be expected from a film titled “7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh,” and Vivieno Caldinelli’s feature doesn’t disappoint in that regard. But the outlandishness proffered by this comedy is of such a strident sort that any possible laughs quickly turn to eye-rolling groans. Despite inclusion in the Midnight movies section of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, this atonal affair is unlikely to elicit much good will from audiences of any genre persuasion.
Ohio transplants Claire (Kate Micucci) and Paul (Sam Huntington) have no sooner moved into their new Los Angeles apartment than they’re discovering the reason for its unbelievably low rent: It’s the former home of the Holy Storsh (Taika Waititi), a cult leader who killed himself in the bathtub, and is now a place where his disciples come to follow his fatal lead. This is, naturally, disturbing and upsetting news for the couple, she an ad executive and he a layabout. However, the goings-on are treated like business as usual by mustachioed detective Cartwright (“Community” and “Rick & Morty” mastermind Dan Harmon). He routinely shows up to clean up the mess left behind by these suicidal crazies, who paint spirals on their foreheads and preface their demises with bizarre rituals.
Mostly, those involve an enormous amount of screaming, which is also true of “7 Stages” as a whole. Rarely does a scene go by in which Micucci, Huntington, Harmon or some Storsh devotee — played by Mark McKinney, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford, among others — aren’t speaking at peak hysteria, not to mention rapid-fire speed. Consequently, any sense of comedic timing is lost, drowned out by an endless barrage of earsplitting back-and-forth largely devoid of funny one-liners. A cacophonous soundtrack of eclectic noises and songs (what “La Bamba” is doing here is anyone’s guess) only further compounds the oppressive din.
After coming to terms with their residence’s recurring visitors, Claire and Paul begin reading the Storsh’s holy book. What they learn is that its lessons about being yourself and ignoring outside criticism — which the film also presents on ornate title cards meant to divide the action into chapters — are not only applicable to their unhappy circumstances but downright liberating. The more they embrace Storsh’s teachings, however, the closer they also get to madness, and it’s not long before “7 Stages” is devolving into bloody lunacy, all while vainly attempting to address the problems at the root of Claire and Paul’s long-standing, far-from-romantic relationship.
Be it an animated bird that listens to Paul’s bonkers story about why he and Claire had to flee Ohio, Claire’s successfully blunt ad campaign for a gold-digging reality TV star (Rhea Seehorn), or Cartwright’s desire to use Claire to get his screenplay produced (with Wesley Snipes as the lead), the film bounces around in desperate search of humor. Alas, it’s nowhere to be found, and in its place is only incident after incident marked by crude aesthetics and uniformly shrill performances. Most stunning of all, however, is how thoroughly Christopher Hewitson, Clayton Hewitson and Justin Jones’ script squanders Waititi, whose giant-bearded wacko proves so dull, it’s hard to imagine anyone listening to what he has to say, much less ending their lives to follow him to a blissful afterlife.