The review is part of our coverage for Cinepocalypse 2018.
Seven Stages To Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through The Gateway Chosen By The Holy Storsh is a hell of a title, the sort of thing that almost no one is going to remember in its entirety as they think about this movie – and don't worry, I'll save your eyes and my fingers by refraining from typing out the whole thing again. It's a title that is as much a joke as the contents of the film it represents, mimicking the rambling lengths its screenplay goes to in service of awkward, absurdist punchlines. And as inane as that might sound, the comedy largely works, though you shouldn't be surprised to find yourself exhausted by the experience once the credits roll.
In a mysteriously cheap LA apartment, Claire (Kate Micucci) and Paul (Sam Huntington) move in only to find that cultists will daily break into their home in order to commit ritualistic suicide in their bathtub. As the detective (Dan Harmon) in charge of recovering their bodies explains, the cultists are followers of Storsh (Taika Waititi), a charismatic leader who killed himself in that bathtub and told his followers that eternal bliss awaits them should they join him in the afterlife of the tub. As Claire and Paul cope with the constant "self-murders" in their home, they learn more about the teachings of Storsh and start to integrate his lessons into their lives to potentially calamitous consequences.
As bizarre as this premise is, the execution only gets weirder as the plot progresses. Claire uses Storsh's teachings to excel at her new job while losing control of her worst impulses, terrifying her new coworkers; Paul finds the motivation to start his own business making crafts but eventually morphs their apartment into a demented cousin of Dave Made A Maze. Micucci and Huntington give expertly exaggerated performances as people losing their grip on reality, while Harmon pops in from time to time to play the bumbling detective with an endearing, eager-to-please earnestness.
And they certainly have a wealth of material to work with, as Storsh is one of the most comically dense films I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. It isn't so much that jokes are rapid-fire as they are constant and long, often relying on actors to commit to a bit for many beats longer than expected. The common life cycle of their speech will start as absurdly funny, shift to mildly annoying, then loop back around to funny again just because you can't believe the joke is still going. It's the Too Many Cooks school of comedy, keeping you engrossed with inanity and gradually escalating to the point of saturated madness until that's just the new normal.
Of course, maintaining that level of heightened surreality is much better suited to an eleven-minute viral video than a ninety-minute film, so by the end Storsh starts to come apart at the seams. The film isn't entirely without opportunities to take a breath, but as the imagery and dialogue become more psychotic, the jokes don't land as consistently or as intensely, leaving you to wait out an inevitable climax that doesn't capitalize on the more troubling aspects of its suicide-driven premise. By elevating the insane to the new normal, Storsh runs out of the fuel necessary to end at the heights it reaches early on.
One of the best moments in Storsh is when Storsh himself appears to Claire in a vision, allowing Taika Waititi to leave a cool and lasting impression during one of the narrative's few moments of downtime. He's funny, charming, slightly awkward, and sporting an intentionally terrible American accent, making him the perfect oasis in a desert of hysterical madness. Though the sum total of Storsh is a positive – and positively maddening – experience, one wishes for more grounding from Waititi's paradoxically ethereal presence. Still, if you can embrace that madness for seven whole stages, Storsh is a worthy gateway to momentary bliss.