Leaking faucets and flickering lights aren’t a couples only issue with their new apartment in Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss, the wilfully absurd horror comedy from Vivieno Caldinelli. Eternally engaged couple Claire (Kate Micucci) and Paul (Sam Huntington) are no sooner moved into their new LA digs when a knife-wielding, tap-dancing cult member has broken into their house, jumped into their bathtub and slit his own throat. It turns out spiritual guru ‘The Holy Storsh’ (Taika Waititi) killed himself in their tub, and now his followers are playing a grisly game of ‘follow the leader’.
Informed by a hilariously jaded detective (Dan Harmon) that this will be a recurring issue and that they should probably just move, the couple decide to stick it out. They explore the teachings of the Holy Storsh, and soon his life-affirming edicts are having positive impacts on their lives – but that bathtub is starting to look extremely enticing…
Drawing comparison with other high concept indie comedies, Seven Stages pushes things to extremes, but it does so to examine a central relationship between its characters. Micucci and Huntington are charming as the hapless couple, with Claire feeling out of place at her new soulless advertising job and Paul struggling to get on the job ladder thanks to severe self-esteem issues. The performances are exaggerated but never to the point of complete caricature, with the result that they are an entertaining pair to watch without their relationship feeling disposable. Micucci, in particular, puts in a great performance in a rare leading role.
A lot of the comedy is breakneck and chaotic, with whirling scenes filled with screaming cultists. However, by far the funniest moments are the quiet counterpoints to the insanity. Dan Harmon’s world-weary detective is a prime example of this, impatiently explaining the situation to the petrified out-of-towners.
Meanwhile, other characters feel underused. Waititi, in particular, could really have done something interesting with the bearded messiah he portrays, but the expected scene-stealing performances never materialise. In fact, despite a bizarrely appealing premise, Seven Stages is rarely laugh-out-loud funny.
Too often, despite some compelling and inventive ideas, the jokes themselves are lost in a confusing muddle of slapstick and shouting. This is especially unfortunate as the plot provides an opportunity for a parade of comedy character actors to invade the apartment, including Josh Brener, Mindy Sterling and Brian Posehn. Even these performers struggle to put in memorable turns in the face of the film’s breakneck pace.
The film gets by, however, on a charming set of quirky personalities and a consistently surprising plot. The premise is wonderfully ‘out there’, but the film has enough heart to keep itself grounded. Ultimately, it’s a heartwarming oddball of a film with enthusiasm leaping off the screen.