Vivieno Caldinelli delivers comedic gold and plenty of bloody fun with his feature film debut “Seven Stages” about a young couple seduced by a crazed cult.
Do you ever find yourself getting tired of brutally savage, nightmare-inducing horror films? Yeah, me neither. But in between the screams and carnage, I sometimes hunger for some lighter fare — and by lighter, I mean a film about crazy cults, mass murder, and suicide pacts.
As if the title alone wasn’t enough to reel me in — Seven Stages To Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen By the Holy Storsh — the talent behind this inventive dark comedy certainly sealed the deal.
Seven Stages is about a young couple named Claire and Paul (played by the most endearing duo ever, Kate Micucci and Sam Harrington) who have just relocated to Los Angeles from Ohio. Claire has landed her dream job in a big ad agency, while her lovable but lazy boyfriend Paul struggles to find the motivation to seriously job hunt. As a result, they are barely making ends meet.
Fortunately, they scored the perfect apartment in a great location for dirt cheap. But they soon learn there’s a reason for the killer deal. Their apartment is home to the ritualistic suicides of a deranged cult.
What starts out as a horrifying event, when a stranger inexplicably enters the couple’s home only to commit suicide in their bathtub, leads to an even more disturbing discovery. They soon learn their apartment was once home to Reginald E. Storsh (Taika Waititi), the mysterious leader of a still very active cult who killed himself in that very same bathtub.
Now a string of Storsh’s devoted followers keep entering the apartment to perform strange rituals and end their own lives in an attempt to reach eternal enlightenment. After one crazy cult member leaves a book of Storsh’s teachings in the apartment, Claire and Paul begin to dig a little deeper into the teachings of a man who could influence so many from beyond the grave.
Suddenly, the crazy teachings don’t seem so crazy after all. Claire begins to shed her inhibitions and insecurities, finding new inspiration at work and gaining the confidence she needs to succeed.
Then Paul recounts along and tragic story of the worst day of his life with an animated character from his favorite children’s cereal. After explaining how he singlehandedly started an apocalyptic chain of events in his hometown, the cartoon bird gives him a silly platitude of encouragement that leads him to his dream career — making and selling ridiculously elaborate birdhouses called Paul’s Boydhouses.
Everything seems to be turning around for the two, but at what cost?
During all this “spiritual growth”, the suicides keeping coming without change. What does change, however, is Paul and Claire’s feelings about them — as well as their evolution from passive spectators to active participants in the bloody chaos.
Director Vivieno Caldinelli’s feature film debut is as zany, irreverent, and balls-to-the wall bonkers as you might expect from the title and impressive cast of comedic all-stars. Caldinelli got his start working on Canadian sketch shows, allowing him to deliver some truly inspired cameos throughout the film, including Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall), Maria Bamford, and Brian Posehn.
In addition to the fun flood of guest appearances, the leads of Seven Stages truly steal the show with heartfelt and wonderfully over-the-top performances that feel right at home in this maniacally constructed madhouse.
Micucci is a severely underrated comedic actress who deserves more leading roles, and she positively shines in this role — equally believable as the sweet but awkward girl next door and the homicidal, increasingly deranged cult afficianoda who strikes fear into the hearts of her coworkers. She has amazing on-screen chemistry with the equally adorable Harrington.
Waititi delivers a standout performance as the quirky, charming cult leader. Rhea Seehorn (American Dad, Better Call Saul) is fiercely funny as a shameless, soulless, gold-digging reality TV star turned Congressional candidate (in an obvious nod to a certain controversial politician currently gracing every headline).
My favorite performance, however, came courtesy of the brilliant Dan Harmon, creator of “Community” and “Rick and Morty”. His turn as the moustached, bumbling Detective Cartwright is endlessly entertaining and strangely sympathetic. It’s his job to clean up the mess left behind each time one of Storsh’s devotees ends it all, but he’s more concerned with using Claire’s agency connections to get his script made — a script designed to be a star vehicle for Wesley Snipes.
With its slapstick sensibility, musical interludes, and colorful characters, Seven Stages is much more campy comedy than horror. But there are still some deliciously dark undertones and a bit of gore to satisfy genre fans looking for some sick humor and a bloody good time.