Judge Gordon Sullivan thought Repo! The Genetic Opera would be about Emilio Estevez and plastic surgery.
Our review of Repo! The Genetic Opera, published January 20th, 2009, is also available.
"I'm infected by your genetics!"
Take a healthy dash of Hot Topic goth, the director of three of the Saw sequels, and a stage musical about genetic perfection with input from half of industrial giants Skinny Puppy, throw it all in a blender, and you've got Repo! The Genetic Opera, a movie musical quite unlike any other out there. Despite the film's odd pedigree, Repo! offers plenty of visual flair, interesting characters, and a strong post-apocalyptic vision, even if it doesn't always succeed as a musical. Although the film only went out to the barest number of theaters, Lionsgate has graced home video fans with an effective presentation of the film offering excellent technical and supplemental qualities.
Facts of the Case
In the not-so-distant future a nasty disease has wiped out large parts of the population by liquifying internal organs. Those who survive are in need of new parts to replace their embattled organs. Enter GeneCo, a company who can manufacture organs on demand, but at a price. Organs don't come cheap, and GeneCo has both a monopoly and a payment plan. However, those that fall behind in their payments will be visited by a Repo man, who will remove GeneCo's property from the delinquient owner.
One such Repo man is Nathan (Anthony Head, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who hides his profession from his 17-year-old daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids). Nathan only wants what's best for Shilo, who has a blood disease inherited from her mother, so he keeps her locked in their house. However, she escapes outside and begins to learn of the ominous connections between her father, her disease, and Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, Goodfellsa), the head of GeneCo.
Repo! The Genetic Opera plays like Marilyn Manson's fantasy remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, mixing industrial costumes, barely-fettered sexuality, body modification, and a whole host of musical talent to tell a story about the rejects and outsiders in society. In many ways, it's a miracle the film got made since it's not the kind of film that will break sales records. Luckily, the film did get made, and the underdog status gives the film a gleeful "I can't believe we're getting away with this" quality that makes the film's odd little world even more appealing.
Make no mistake, Repo! takes place in an odd little world. Internal organ swapping is high-fashion. Graverobbers go around digging up corpses to get the drugs in their blood. Men in giant suits run around killing people who are behind on their organ payments. All of this is presented with spectacular production elements (for the budget) and the utmost attention to visual excitement. After watching the first three Saw sequels, I can't say I held out much hope for Darren Lynn Bousman. His direction was competent, but there was nothing about any of those films that indicated he was going anywhere. However, my opinion of him has turned around, and Repo! is the trumpet that announces his arrival as a major talent. There's a delirious love of visual storytelling that infects every frame of this film. Despite the (comparatively) minuscule budget, the film is filled with camera moves, juxtapositions, and visual ideas that jump off the screen. In other hands, Repo! could have been a boring, set-bound re-animation of the corpse of the stage musical. In Bousman's hands the story's thematic and musical elements are given new life.
However, Bousman alone is not responsible for the success of the film. Repo! at least partially earns that exclamaition point because of the amazing performances of its cast. Tony Head is his usual brilliant self playing Nathan, the man leading two lives. His love for Shilo and his ruthlessness towards his "victims" are both equally convincing, and I could listen to his voice all day. Paul Sorvino is another highlight as Rotti Largo. He seems to be channeling William Shatner in his singing, and although it seems weird to say it, the technique works perfectly for the slimy Largo. I haven't seen Alexa Vega in anything but the Spy Kids franchise, but she acquits herself nicely in Repo! with a perfect mix of shy and spunk. Co-creator Terrance Zdunich plays the Graverobber, and he does a sexy update of the Riff-Raff character. Both Bill Moseley and Paris Hilton play Largo's children, and they're both note-perfect as the spoiled fruit of GeneCo.
This Blu-ray from Lionsgate is a perfect match for the film. Bousman's visual flair is presented very well on this disc's 1.78:1 transfer. The film is dark, but detail remains fairly high and blacks never become problematic. There's a definite stylization to the visuals (especially a certain softness) which might turn off purists, but I think Bousman's vision was reproduced well. Considering that opera is in the title of the film, the DTS HD track had a lot to live up to, and it achieves it handily. The mix itself was excellent, with a good separation of voices, and those voices are piped to appropriate places in the soundscape as the film progresses. The bottom end also possessed a satisfying "oomph."
The extras show how much this was a labor of love for Bousman and company. The film's production gets effective treatment in Bousman's commentary with actors Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, and Ogre. The more thematic elements of the film get covered in a commentary with Bousman, co-creators Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, and music producer Joseph Bishara. There's some overlap between the two, but the personalities keep it fresh. There is also selected scene commentary with Paris Hilton and Bousman. The two team up again for a discussion of some of the film's deleted scenes. The stage show had to be considerably tightened to fit into cinematic terms, and much of the excised material is of the same quality as the feature, even if it wouldn't have benefited the overall film by being included. There are also a few featurettes that cover the film's trip from stage to screen as well as its production, but the commentaries are the place to go for that info (unless you're in a hurry). The disc rounds out with a trailer and poster galleries.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It pains me to say this considering the praise I've tried to heap on the film, but Repo! The Genetic Opera didn't do much for me as a musical. The instrumentation (of industrial drums, distorted guitar, and eerie synth) tends to make many of the songs sound too similar. I didn't find any of the melodies particularly hummable/memorable, and the lyrics just didn't click with me for the most part. I don't think the music derailed the film, but it's not a soundtrack I'll be picking up any time soon. However, unlike other critics, I found the singing voices of pretty much every actor to be spot on. Sure, Tony Head is obviously the standout because of his musical theater experience, but I found Paul Sorvino's Shatner-ific tics and Bill Moseley's painful inability to sing actually contributed to their characters.
It might seem strange to recommend a musical when you didn't like the music, but Repo! is exactly the kind of strange film certain audiences have been waiting for. It's obviously not the right choice for the average date night, but for those who've always dreamed of an industrial remake of Rocky Horror, Repo! will provide some memorable performances and food for thought. The video and audio on this Lionsgate Blu-ray make this disc easy to recommend as the best way to see Repo! The Genetic Opera.
I'd like to keep my internal organs, so Repo! is not guilty.
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