My notes on Seven Stages To Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh (2018)
An aspirant successor to Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? in the most unwieldy/trying-too-hard quirky long title business, this is a slight but intermittently funny Los Angeles cult satire … which is to say that it’s a film about a cult that would also like to be a cult film.
In the 1980s, Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul had a similar vibe, with the suggestion that in LA ‘the line between sex and food has completely disappeared’ but in this century the overlapping fads are spiritualism and celebrity. Meek marketing exec Claire (Kate Micucci) and unemployable slacker boyfriend Paul (Sam Huntington) rent an apartment at a suspiciously reasonable rate in the Tabula Building – they haven’t quite settled in when a crazed man with a red spiral painted on his forehead breaks in and cuts his throat in the bath-tub with a plastic knife. Slobbish cop Cartwright (Dan Harmon) is less surprised than the couple might expect, which turns out to be because a tenet of the followers of late guru Reginald E. Storsh (Taika Waititi) is that they can only achieve personal happiness by killing themselves in this specific bathtub. Then, a procession of loons show up intent on self-slaughter, clutching Storsh books and parroting the cult’s nonsense doctrine.
Claire and Paul are discombobulated by this, but gradually get drawn into the mini-dramas – with circumstances prompting them to take a more active role in ending the cultists’ lives. Cartwright blithely ignores any suspicious circumstances – like the suicide who stabbed herself in the back – because he thinks Claire will get his autobiographical screenplay to Wesley Snipes. And a brush with a caricature monster – a reality TV gold-digger running for office who wants to open more puppy-killing centres (Rhea Seehorn) – edges them into a darker place, much like Bartel’s Blands, as they realise painting a spiral on foreheads and dumping corpses in their tub disguises any vigilante activity.
The script by Christopher Hewitson, Clayton Hewitson and Justin Jones gets a bit wayward – the most sustained non sequitur is a funny speech by Paul about why the couple left Ohio, which turns out to be a precis of any given generic recent zombie outbreak movie – and some of the satire targets are way too easy, but Micucci and Huntington are sweet and funny, with an edge of craziness that wards off potential mushiness. Directed by first-timer Vivieno Caldinelli in an ever-so-slightly twee manner – though he cuts loose in an extended hard-to-kill sequence riffing on Torn Curtain.
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