Los Angeles has seen its share of cults over the years. From Theosophy, Manson and the SLA to Jim Jones, Carlos Castaneda, and Scientology, the home of Hollywood has consistently attracted a steady stream of alternative religions, to the point where their temple could reside in your own bathroom. Screenwriters Christopher Hewitson, Clayton Hewitson and Justin Jones used this to form the backbone of their hilarious, quirky comedy Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storch, brilliantly directed by Vivieno Caldinelli.
A young couple has moved from their Midwestern hometown to LA for a fresh start. Claire (Garfunkel and Oates’ Kate Micucci) just started her job in an advertising firm while her boyfriend Paul (Sam Huntington of Fanboys and Veronica Mars fame) loafs on the couch eating cereal out of the box. One night a wide-eyed nutcase breaks into the apartment, tap-dancing his way down the hallway before breaking into the bathroom while Claire sits on the toilet only to kill himself in the bathtub. When the police show up, Detective Cartwright (Dan Harmon) informs the couple that the leader of a popular death cult killed himself in their bathtub, making it a sacred place of ritual suicide to his followers. The couple’s lives spiral out of control as cultists pursue “eternal bliss” while Claire and Paul try to understand why.
“…while Claire sits on the toilet only to kill himself in the bathtub…”
No matter how much is written about the premise, you won’t be prepared for the journey. Gore, animation and musical numbers all play integral parts to the story, as does color. Caldinelli’s use of pastels brings a cartoonish atmosphere to the backgrounds while the protagonists’ skin tones change according to their mental states. Death becomes commonplace, perhaps a comment on American apathy when faced with yet another mass shooting.
As Claire and Paul, Micucci and Huntington give 100%, their paths diverging into separate emotional corners only to reconnect on the other side. Though a bumbling fool, Harmon’s detective pleads for empathy when you realize he’s just another LA dreamer who hates his job while Dana Gould and Rhea Seehorn shine as antagonists that unwittingly set the final moments in motion. Then there’s the list of cult members which reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary American comedy on IFC.
“…an astute comment on death and its relationship to American society.”
To be clear, it’s not for everybody. The sense of humor required for this film falls somewhere between Maron and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Be prepared to cringe a lot and laugh nervously. Leave your decency at the door.
Ultimately, Caldinelli has handed over an astute comment on death and its relationship to American society. It’s The Loved One for millennials, a film that forces us to laugh at something we’d rather not even acknowledge. Fortunately, the journey is well worth the price of admission.
Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh Directed by Vivieno Caldinelli. Written by Christopher Hewitson, Clayton Hewitson and Justin Jones. Starring Kate Micucci, Sam Huntington, Dan Harmon, Taika Waititi and Mark McKinney. Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.
4.5 out of 5 stars