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SEVEN STAGES TO ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS (2018)

aka CORPSE TUB, SEVEN STATES TO ACHIEVE BLISS BY PASSING THROUGH THE GATEWAY CHOSEN BY THE HOLY STORSH
Directed by Vivieno Caldinelli
Written by Christopher Hewitson, Clayton Hewitson, Justin Jones
Starring Kate Micucci, Sam Huntington, Taika Waititi, Rhea Seehorn, Dan Harmon, Matt Jones, Brian Posehn, Mindy Sterling, Mark McKinney, Lilan Bowden, Josh Brener, Maria Bamford, Ryan Simpkins, Craig Cackowski, Dana Gould, Britney Young, J. Lee, Michael St. Michaels, Ron Lynch, Jon Dore, Lola Kelly, John Yuan, Matt Yuan, John J. Lozada, Robert Evans, Adam Brodie, Jack Taylor Jr., Brian Girard, Seamus Whalen, Marshall Foster

There are dark comedies and then there is SEVEN STAGES TO ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS, which plunges to deeper and darker levels of wrongness for the sake of shock and guffaws. On the surface, this is a chipper story of a couple trying to fit into a new apartment in a new town. It just so happens that the story is riddled with suicides and even though I wasn’t put off by it, the treatment of this very serious subject matter is very tone deaf. Now that I pointed that out, I will admit that I had a lot of fun with SEVEN STAGES TO ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS.

A slacker named Paul (Sam Huntington) and his up and coming ad agent girlfriend Claire (Kate Micucci) have moved to LA after an incident in Ohio forced them to relocate (I won’t spoil that hilariously wrong story). The first night in their new apartment is interrupted by a man breaking in the window, making his way into the bathroom, and slitting his own throat in the bathtub. Paul and Claire come to find out that the apartment they rented so cheaply used to be owned by a cult leader named Storsh (played by Taika Waititi) who murdered himself in that very same bathtub and encouraged his followers to do so as well. So Paul and Claire must decide whether or not to move to a more expensive place or simply go with the occasional break-ins and suicides as they happen. Dan Harmon plays Cartwright, a cop who wishes to be a screenwriter and cursed with following up on each suicide after he bungled the arrest of Storsh. Paul and Claire begin reading the Book of Storsh, finding spiritual guidance and inspiration from his teachings that end up benefitting their aimless lives and guiding them to help these hapless cultists with their suicides since they are so bad at killing themselves.

7 STAGES TO ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS is one of those films that keep the comedy mill running from start to finish. Every one liner or observation is followed by a sight gag or a subtle detail that you might miss if you aren’t looking at it. The pace of the film is fast, never allowing the viewer a chance to stop and realize how wrong the subject matter really is. Having known quite a few people who have succumbed to suicide, I understand why some people would want to steer clear of this film as it definitely would trigger someone with a proximity to this terrible act. At the same time, though, 7 STAGES never really tries to be a moral compass or pass on a strong message about cults and suicides. These cultists are simply bad at killing themselves, which might lead one to believe they are morons—and in a way, they are as they are played by some of the funniest underground comedians out there today like Maria Bamford, Brian Posehn, and Mark McKinney. I think this type of humor will offend, and I understand why, but at the same time, there is a sort of sweetness to 7 STAGES that makes the film utterly enjoyable.

A lot of that has to do with our hapless leads Kate Micucci and Sam Huntington. I never watched GARFUNKEL AND OATES, but she was a part of that musical and comedy duo. Here her comedic timing is impeccable, playing the straight woman to all of the strange happenings around her and to her boyfriend Paul’s hapless meanderings towards eventually, someday, getting off the couch and getting a job. She has a likability that makes you root for her to succeed, though she also plays a character at conflict with the state she is in and willing to go down some extreme avenues to achieve it. Huntington, I am familiar with from NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE, BEING HUMAN, and countless other films. He’s got an everyman quality, but also a Chevy Chase like delivery that makes me laugh even when he is not trying to be funny. His banter with Micucci is perfect and the two compliment each other’s styles really well. Because these two characters and the actors playing them are so likable and the jokes come fastly and furiously, again, you just don’t have time to realize how wrong the story is until the film reaches its very end.

Despite it being a comedy, I found 7 STAGES to resonate with me long after it occurred. It doesn’t so much as make fun of the subject matter, but it sort of embraces the path these cultists take as one of many routes people can take with their lives. I don’t think the filmmakers were trying to make a film to guide one in a decision to take one’s life or not. It’s just one of those films that happens to have a lot of suicide in it. The cameos of so many comedians is fun, as they are in and out rather quickly, but performances by the talented Dan Harmon as well as BETTER CALL SAUL’s Rhea Seehorn really enrich and elevate the film. Of course, having Taika Waititi in it takes it to a whole ‘nother level. I laughed more than I winced at 7 STAGES TO ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS. I don’t’ know what that says about me, but I can understand why some might not and respect that. The rapid rate of comedy from an extremely talented cast helped me swallow this difficult pill of a film. If you’re the type who can see the comedy in everything and think there is nothing off limits in humor, 7 STAGES TO ACHIEVE ETERNAL BLISS is going to be the horror comedy for you.

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