REVIEW: Repo! The Genetic Opera [2008]

“All debts are paid at the opera tonight”

Blood, gore, goth, and … opera? If Darren Lynn Bousman is behind the camera, yes, they meld together into a passion project for all to experience. He can thank the success of the Saw franchise, which he directed three installments, for allowing him to get the financing and support to put Repo! The Genetic Opera into theatres, (even if it didn’t come to my hometown). The middle third of a planned trilogy of rock-horror, the film takes place in a future where genetically created organs are mass-produced and financed to even the poorest surgery-junkies around, with the caveat that if you miss a payment, your very life will be repossessed. Inhabited by freaks and monsters, the city is a cesspool of greed and violence, lorded over by the Largo family and their ownership of GeneCo—meaning they hold the life and death of almost everyone in their hands. Only one girl can possibly instill change, the daughter of the Repoman himself, a young woman unable to go outside due to a blood disease, the father made to kill and retrieve organs by blackmail and a lie that has shaped his life for seventeen years.

The crux of the tale hinges on the relationship between Rotti Largo, the founder of GeneCo, and Nathan Wallace, his ex-doctor and presumed heir to the throne (the Largo children are all headcases, unable to run a company), current Repoman and thief of Largo’s love. Marni is the woman that fell in love with Nathan, breaking off her relationship with Rotti, marrying the doctor and bearing his child, Shilo. After she fell ill while pregnant, Nathan did all he could to cure her, even taking a medication from his friend and employer, not knowing Rotti had given him a poison to get revenge on the woman who left him. With Marni dead, Nathan thinking himself a murderer, and Shilo born, Wallace decides to imprison his daughter from leaving the house, shielding her from the horrors of the outside world and from his job as the most well-known monster alive.

And it’s all done through song. Say what you will about the film—I’m a little mixed on it myself—but do not deny the absolute imagination and courage that went into actually making it happen. There was no way that Repo! would ever be commercially viable. From the start, if it were to succeed at all, it would be as a cult classic, taken possession by late night theatres and the eccentric people who frequent them. Does it have the staying power of a Rocky Horror Picture Show? I’m not too sure, but then I can’t believe the Tim Curry vehicle does, so who knows? I’ll admit that the music itself isn’t anything too memorable, the hard rock/industrial beats are fantastic, but the lyrics, while good for progressing the plot, end up being a bit disjointed, not rhyming often and choppy in their delivery. But, again, just the attempt of something this ambitious must be applauded.

Bousman has truly created a world that aesthetically demands your attention. The detail in the dark, metallic/computerized world is inventive and intriguing to behold. From the costumes, to the piles of bodies, to the character development of changing faces, to the stage shows of murder, there is a lot going on and your eyes will be assaulted with visual after visual, not a break in sight. With a mixture of drama and camp, the disgusting mixes with the absurd for some fantastic setpieces. I cannot stop thinking of an early scene in the graveyard, Shilo, leaving the indoors to catch an insect, stumbling upon the Graverobber and the police and Repoman chasing after him. The fog and grime, juxtaposed with Terrance Zdunich’s voice, (by far the best of the bunch, very creepy), add suspense and wonder from his confidence of not getting caught and her fear that she will. And the falling into a pile of dead bodies on the other side of a stone wall adds to the look as well.

As far as the acting goes, it’s a mixed bag too. I really liked Alexa Vega as Shilo, she plays the young girl wanting to be free nicely, and loved Anthony Stewart Head as Nathan/Repoman. His constant transformation from father/doctor to monster/killer is great—oh what the removal of glasses and slick-backed hair can do to your image, especially when your eyes gain a menacing glint. Definitely the strongest of the bunch, I was captivated by his conflicted self, trying his best to be the father his daughter needs while also punishing himself for what he thinks he did to his wife. As for the rest, I have to admit to enjoying the Largo family, if still thinking they were all horrible. Paul Sorvino is the only person doing an operatic voice and it is out of place; his children are just plain weird. Containing the most campy and hammy performances, the utter absurdity of Paris Hilton’s Amber, Ogre’s face-changing Pavi, and Bill Moseley’s over-the-top psychopath Luigi bring a smile to your face for the laughs, but also a grimace due to the unpolished deliveries.

I have to say, that while it didn’t blow me away as I hoped it would, Repo! is very much worth a visit. Hoping the next two installments do get made, I hope the writers may get them a bit more flowing musically. Bousman definitely has the aesthetic down, complete with the comic book cut scenes and flashbacks. Disturbing, yes; entertaining, of course—despite the subject matter; complete success, maybe not quite. The makings for cult status are there; hopefully Bousman can continue creating inventively creepy films. If nothing else, he has an eye to make the disgustingly vile look beautiful.

Repo! The Genetic Opera 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Terrance Zdunich (“Graverobber”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s Repo! The Genetic Opera. Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie.
[2] Alexa Vega (“Shilo Wallace”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s Repo! The Genetic Opera.


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