Finding your dream apartment is never easy, especially in a city like Los Angeles, and while there are plenty of things worth letting slide for cheap rent, a revolving door of crazy cult members who want to commit suicide in your bathtub probably isn’t one of them. But what if those cult members were on to something?
“7 Stages To Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen By the Holy Storsh” poses this absurd question with the same goofy energy as its long-winded title. It’s wild and funny ride, but comes equipped with a pinch of existential dread.
Director Vivieno Caldinelli, who got his start working on Canadian sketch shows, puts his comedy roots to good use by wrangling “Kids in the Hall” star Mark McKinney, Maria Bamford, Taika Waititi and more for inspired cameos. But the string of familiar faces all have a one-dimensional quality. In many ways, “7 Stages” feels like an absurd acid trip, one that starts off strong, but which soon gets lost in its own cleverness before redeeming itself again at the end.
Claire (Kate Micucci) and Paul (Sam Huntington) have just relocated from Ohio to Los Angeles, and things are almost too good to be true. Claire has landed her dream job, and the couple have found a cheap apartment, but on their first night something horrifying happens: Someone breaks into their apartment and commits suicide in their bathtub. Claire and Paul are appalled, not only because of the suicide, but because they discover their dream apartment was once home to Reginald E. Storsh (Waititi), an enigmatic cult leader who killed himself in the very same bathtub.
As a number of strange cult members begin entering their apartment to perform bizarre rituals, Claire and Paul begin digging deeper into the teachings of Storsh and discover it’s not all that crazy after all. Storsh’s ideas begin transforming their lives, helping them find the confidence they’ve always longed for, but they also threaten to tear the couple apart in the process.
Waititi fans will likely be a little disappointed to find that while his Storsh looms large over the course of “7 Stages,” the beloved director-actor’s cameo is a small one. In the film’s press notes, producer Daniel Noah admits that he didn’t expect his long-time friend to accept the part, and was delighted when Waititi signed on to the film. “He was so busy with ‘Thor,'” Noah said. “But he showed up for a day, and he worked out this character on such a deep level. He understood him so clearly, the voice, the face, the gestures.” Watiti’s dedication pays off in spades, and while he certainly leaves the audience wishing he had a larger role, it’s also hard to imagine anyone else playing the irresistible and quirky Storsh.
But Waititi isn’t the only standout performance in the film. Kate Micucci and Sam Huntington have the perfect chemistry as a young couple caught up in the mix of the quirky cult, and Micucci truly shines as the compelling, hilarious, and slightly homicidal Claire. But perhaps the biggest surprise in “7 Stages” is “Community” and “Rick and Morty” creator Dan Harmon, in a show-stealing turn as the bumbling Detective Cartwright, a police detective with some big (and unrealistic) Hollywood aspirations. In a movie eager to entertain at every turn, Harmon delivers better than most.
Beyond the silly punchlines, “7 Stages” poses some existential quandaries of its own. As Claire discovers, the road to happiness often means telling the truth and hurting the ones you love.
“7 Stages” marks a foray into comedy for SpectreVision’s new parent company, Company X. SpectreVision, the Elijah Wood-backed production company, was behind genre hits such as “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and “Cooties.” But there are still subtle hints of horror in “7 Stages,” as the line between the cult members’ suicidal tendencies blurs with Claire’s own homicidal urges. Claire might be helping the members achieve the enlightenment they seek, but she’s certainly working out her own aggressions in the process.
Despite big cameos and the magnetic pull of Harmon and Waititi, “7 Stages” screams for accruing cult status on a streaming platform. But it has enough inspired comedy to warrant the attention, complimenting the zaniness with surreal visuals and a killer Flaming Lips song that plays over the closing credits. The key to happiness might not be found in a dirty old bathtub in Los Angeles, but “7 Stages” is still guaranteed to put a smile on your face.