Claire and Paul (Kate Micucci and Sam Huntington) move to LA for her new job at an ad agency. They find a very cheap apartment, but there’s one catch: the cult members who drop by on a regular basis to commit ritual suicide in their bathtub.
Seven Stages To Achieve Eternal Bliss is an odd little film; a small scale but often self-consciously wacky comedy that also has a streak of black humour running through it. The tone is slippery from scene to scene, meaning the screenplay by Christopher and Clayton Hewitson and Justin Jones doesn’t always knit together well, but two things help the film find some consistency.
The first of these things is Kate Micucci, who came to my attention through Garfunkel and Oates; her musical comedy project with her friend Riki Lindhome. Here, her wide-eyed expressiveness works perfectly as Claire is at first baffled by the cultists coming in through her window to find their way to the paradise they believe is coming, and for the way she is gradually sucked in once she begins reading the Book of Storsh. Micucci is just funny, the rhythm of her line readings, her persona especially when set against some of the things she does here (for instance, one very funny sequence in which Claire and Paul find themselves ineptly helping along a cultist who has miscalculated how much his chosen method will hurt). Beyond that, the films does offer her one brief moment that has at least a layer of drama behind the veneer of its silliness, as Claire lays out a story to tell, Cartwright (Dan Harmon), the inept cop who investigates all the deaths at their apartment, it’s clear that what she’s saying is actually about her and Paul. Micucci pulls both sides of this off very nicely, finding a little resonant moment.
The rest of the cast scores laughs as well, whether it’s Huntington’s dim bulb of a boyfriend, Harmon’s cop, more interested in his screenplay than in any of the increasingly suspicious deaths at Claire and Paul’s apartment, or the cameos that drop in to off themselves, the highlight being a typically manic and hilarious Maria Bamford.
The other thing that helps the film is that, while they often feel more like isolated moments, pretty much every scene here has at least one or two laughs. A sunny montage of deaths in the bathtub and Claire and Paul both succeeding at their work is one particularly amusing moment, another is the jarring (but laugh out loud ridiculous) moment the first cultist breaks in to the apartment and yells “Do you yield?” at Paul. A few jokes could be carried a little further, for instance, one funny moment has Cartwright coming in to the apartment like the most cliché of action movie cops, it might have been fun to see that feature throughout his performance. When gags do fall flat, there’s another on the way quickly enough that hits should come fairly regularly. For me the only consistent miss was Taika Waititi, who doesn’t seem especially engaged in his recurring cameo as the cult’s figurehead.
Vivieno Caldinelli’s direction definitely shows the film’s low budget origins, but there are some recurring motifs that he finds laughs in and the design, though a little twee, works in reflecting the characters and helping to make the apartment where much of the film takes place a character in the film.
The problem with all of this, and with reviewing any comedy, is that it will either work for you or not. I found myself laughing a lot and largely charmed and amused by the quirkiness on display, if you don’t I can imagine you not following all of the Seven Stages To Achieve Eternal Bliss.