Repo! The Genetic Opera
Film review by: Witney Seibold
I have to give a lot of credit to “Repo! The Genetic Opera” for its sheer audacity of premise. It’s a science-fiction-horror film about an evil organ-harvesting corporation who has enlisted a repo man to repossess the transplanted organs from customers behind in their payments. The film features grave-robbing, buckets of blood, face transplants, animated comic-book-style expositionary montages, Paris Hilton, hologram-projecting eyeballs, a cluttered dystopian set design that seems to have been assembled from the castoffs of “Brazil,” and a guitar solo by Joan Jett. And, yes, it is an opera; most of the dialogue is sung.
The story is a bit convoluted, but it centers on the 17-year-old daughter (Alexa Vega) of the city’s most notorious repo man (Anthony Head), a character who claims to be tortured by his job, but seems to enjoy it a helluva lot. In the future, a plague has overtaken most of humanity. The only way to combat the plague is by getting organ transplants. Luckily a benevolent corporation called GeneCo invented a new form of loan which allowed people to borrow organ money, and get all the transplants they needed. The unfortunate side effect of such a loan is that reneging on the loan will mean the forcible extraction of the purchased organ. Over the years, GeneCo became so rich that it inevitably became corrupt. The company’s president (Paul Sorvino) is now looking for an heir. His three vapid children (Hilton, Bill Moseley, Ogre) are alternately addicted to cosmetic surgery, and just outright wacky, so he must turn to Vega. He has his thumb on Vega’s repo-man dad through some past dealing with his deceased wife. The film is largely about his manipulation of the characters to do his bidding.
Also in the film is Sarah Brightman as the possessor of the aforementioned holo-porjecting eyeballs. Brightman is the only one who sings the hell out of her scenes. Sorvino has a good pair of pipes on him as well, but it’s Brightman who steals the show. Also stealing his scenes is the co-screenwriter-cum-narrator Terrence Zdunich as a wickedly grinning grave-robber.
The music is exciting, but a bit nondescript. The performances are energetic, but most of them seem a bit confused by the entire affair. What’s the most impressive is the mere existence of such an oddball project. I give props to the song/screen-writers (Zdunich and Darren Smith) for bringing their stage vision to the screen.
I, however, wish I could have seen this film on the stage. The bloody and the immediacy of the performances would have made for a hugely satisfying grand guignol. Sadly, the film’s director Darren Lynn Bousman, nearly ruined it. Bouseman’s other directing credits include “Saw”s II-IV, and he tries, once again, to make his film look like the inside of an abattoir, only this one looks as if it were laid out by apathetic MTV photographers.
Every shot is oversaturated with light, every scene is out-of-focus and indistinct. It’s clear that the film’s designers went to a lot of trouble to make the film’s sets look dynamic and interesting, and that the cast and crew all sang and danced their hearts out, but then the film’s photographer, Joseph White, didn’t bother to light them or to keep them the least bit visible. It is an ugly, ugly film with a dizzyingly drab palate. I imagine this was all Bousman’s attempt to make his film look “expressionistic,” but it looked more like he didn’t have any filmmaking chops. I admire him for digging into the bizarre material with such aplomb, but I cannot laud his aesthetic execution.
“Repo!” is certainly worth a look; when was the last time you saw a gory dystopian operatic melodrama? It should get credit for trying to be original. It probably won’t reach the cultish heights it could have, but I can see it selling a good number of soundtrack albums. People have been comparing it to “The Rocky Horror Picture show” in terms of its projected phenomenon. It will not gather such a cult, but it will have a cadre of defenders.