Tribeca Film Festival Review: Seven Stages

The full name of this film is Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh.

What a title, huh? Unfortunately, it is the wittiest, most amusingly descriptive piece of writing in the otherwise ninety minutes of pure comic disappointment that follow.

Billed as a dark comedy, the premise has the promise of being a pure black comedic thrill. When an unsuspecting couple from Ohio (Kate Micucci and Sam Huntington) move into the Tabula Apartments in Los Angeles, they believe they have found an apartment unicorn: great space, close to freeways, good water pressure, and inexpensive. What they don’t know is that the Holy Storsh (Taika Waititi), a cult leader, chose their bathtub as the place to kill himself. Finding that your apartment was the scene of a suicide might be traumatic but learning that news because his followers believe that the only way to achieve salvation is to follow him is black comedy gold. At least it should be.

“Seven

The couple struggle with the decision of giving up their dreams and moving to Winnipeg even as more cult followers slip in and off themselves. Most aren’t particularly good at it. In what is perhaps the funniest line in the movie — oddly mocked by the lead detective (Mark Mckinney, playing a detective so used to the “self-murders” he lets most every clue slide, all the while obsessing on his screenplay) — one detective comments that one doesn’t get much practice in suicide. Driven by desperation and becoming followers of a sort themselves, the couple begin to help said cult followers achieve a swift and painless end. They become so good at it, in fact, that they begin to find non-believers and make them forceable converts in death.

Perky, adorable, Ohioan couple becomes serial killers! That sounds like it should be funny. And dark. No? No. Going for long shouty monologues and zaniness over dark thills and amusing juxtaposition, this movie falls short in an absolutely spectacular way. That isn’t to say the movie isn’t spectacular, just its failing: all the wrong dials were turned up to eleven.

Musing on dark comedies that got death and murder right — even the elongated suicide and making it so genuinely enjoyable that you want to watch it again — bring to mind movies like the 1991 French film Delicatessen. However, we can’t say what this movie should be, only what it is or isn’t. As fans of several of the actors (Micucci from Scrubs, Huntington from Being Human, Waititi from the delightful dark comedy, 2014’s What We Do in The Shadows), and as people who enjoy being made uncomfortable enough by dark material to be brought to laughter, we were truly hoping for something unique and enjoyable. Be it gallows humor or just physical comedy done well, we would have been satisfied. Unfortunately, Seven Stages delivers on neither. On paper, the premise sounds dark and funny: The promise of bliss luring people to grizzly deaths. On the screen, it is mostly annoying. In the end, the truth of the Seven Stages of Eternal Bliss is clear: it doesn’t get better, so get out while you can.

-30-