Here’s a series of questions for you.
Do you like heavy metal music? Did you ever go through or are going through a Goth phase of your life? Do you like ridiculous gore effects? Are you more or less ok with Paris Hilton?
If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes”, then pull up a chair, and let me tell you about this movie you may have overlooked for whatever reason.
REPO! The Genetic Opera is the film adaptation of the underground stage show of the same name that first opened in 2002, and was written and composed by Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith. The film version, also penned by Zdunich and Smith was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, known to horror audiences as the director Saw 2 & 3. It is one of those movies where when you look at all the elements on paper, it looks like a complete mess. But the result on screen is a unique and entertaining film definitely worth your time to watch.
Before we get into the plot, there are 3 things this movie is known for, and I feel much better about touching on before proceding in detail with the rest of this review.
1. Like the title says, it’s an OPERA. That means there is very little spoken dialogue in the movie, and everything is sung. All together, there are almost SIXTY musical tracks in this movie, when you include interludes.
2. This movie has the most random cast of any movie ever made. We’ll get into who does what a bit later on, but this cast has a veteran character actor, a broadway star, a former child actress, a talented British TV star, a heavy metal singer, and…
3. Yes, Paris Hilton is in this. Okay, okay… Calm your tits. Paris Hilton IS in this, and she is GREAT in this. Seriously.
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s dive right in. REPO! takes place in a near future where disease and organ failure are rampant. A company called GeneCo, run by the Largo family, came into prominance by selling replacement organs to keep people alive through this calamity. After these surgeries became commonplace, custom organs and genetic manipulation became fashionable, and people became addicted to surgeries as well as Zydrate, a drug that is used to aid with the pain associated with these procedures. GeneCo employs Repo Men to repossess the organs of anyone who is delinquent on their payments.
The Largo family is headed by Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino). His 3 children are royal fuck ups to put it mildly. Luigi (Bill Mosely) is a powder keg prone to explode in a murderous rage over things as trivial as being served the wrong type of coffee. Pavi (Nivek Ogre) is a womanizer who has affected a phony effeminate eurotrash persona. Oh, also he murders women and wears their faces as masks. Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton) is a spoiled drug addict who wants to be a musical superstar despite having no talent.
Playing foils to the violent opulence of the Largo clan is Nathan Wallace (Anthony Stewart Head) and his daughter Shiloh (Alexa Vega). Rotti’s fiance, Marni, left him to marry Nathan, and as a result, Rotti secretly poisoned Marni so she died in child birth, and put the blame for her death on Nathan. Terrified that Shiloh learn the circumstances of her mother’s death, Nathan agrees to be one of Rotti’s Repo Men in exchange for his secrecy about Marni’s death.
Also involved in the mix is the star of GeneCo’s opera show, Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) . She was Marni’s best friend, and was blind until GeneCo gave her a new set of eyes in exchange for performing in the opera.
The other main character is the Graverobber (Terrence Zdunich). He extracts bootleg Zydrate from the brains of corpses. His greater role in the story however, is that of sort of a Greek chorus, occasionally moving the plot along with short bits of exposition.
Whew… that’s a lot of characters.
The songs in this movie are in general pretty great. “Legal Assassin” explains Nathan’s desire to protect Shiloh, as well as his raging split personality. “Mark It Up” is a funny song between the Largo siblings about how each one thinks they should be the heir, sung as they fling random organs around the room. “Chase The Morning” is Blind Mag’s warning to Shiloh about living your life in captivity. The standout song to me is “Zydrate Anatomy”, a sing-songy tune about what Zydrate is, and Amber Sweet’s relationship with both The Graverobber and Blind Mag. It’s a catchy motherfucker, and it WILL get stuck in your head.
Stuck in my head?
STUCK IN YOUR HEAD!
The only weak songs, in my opinion, are “Infected” and “Seventeen”, which non-coincidentally are both songs sung by Shiloh. I really am not a fan of this character. I also think Alexa Vega is probably the weak link in this movie, both in terms of acting and singing. I’m not even exactly 100% sure why I dislike her so much. Maybe it has to do with a whiny 80 lb girl with her arms and legs all flailing about like pieces of spaghetti, while darker, much more interesting things are happening to much more interesting and layered characters. Speaking of which…
The character work in this movie is really pretty special. Other than fucking Shiloh, there isn’t a bad character or performance in this movie. Rotti is a manipulative prick who is protective of his legacy in GeneCo, and values that over his children. The Largos are all pretty much comic relief characters, Luigi and Pavi in particular. However, how many movies make their comic relief characters murderous sexual deviants? Pavi is one of those batshit crazy characters that you realize isn’t a crucial cog to the central narrative, but end up wishing there was more for him to do because he is so damn interesting and weird.
Amber Sweet was cast PERFECTLY. When the viewer sees Paris Hilton, without her saying a word, the audience associates her with being a spoiled heiress who uses her social standing to push herself into fame she doesn’t really deserve. That’s basically the character of Amber. I really respect the Hell out of Hilton for pursuing this role. It shows that she has a degree of self awareness I really didn’t think she was capable of. She was originally refused a chance to audition, but once the filmmakers saw her interpretation of the character, as well, as heard her sing Amber’s parts, they were rightfully convinced she was right for the role. She deserves a shit ton of credit for this performance.
The real stand out performance though is Anthony Stewart Head as Nathan. It’s a tricky role to pull off, as he has to portray both a caring, sympathetic father, and a remorseless killing machine as two separate characters… sometimes even in the same scene. He does horrible, horrible things in this, but you never get the sense that he is a horrible person. Plus, he has all the best songs in this. At one point, he is gutting a sad soul who missed some payments, and reaches up into the body cavity, and puppets the corpses head to perform a ventriloquist duet with himself. That is one of those perfect combos of ghastly and weird that you just don’t see enough of these days. I can’t praise his performance enough, as he really carries this movie.
After watching Birdemic 2 repeatedly last week, and criticizing it for having Hangover 2 levels of lazy, uncreative screenwriting, it was refreshing to watch something so completely original and unique. You can’t say REPO! doesn’t come from a creative place. I can see how elements of this movie would make it one of those films you either love or hate. I know that some will be turned off by all the singing. I know some people are just Paris Hilton haters. But if you are a fan of musical movies, or can at least look past it, this is a movie you simply need to see. It is well made, well acted, the songs are memorable… Other than fucking Shiloh, I really can’t think of a bad thing to say about it. I’m sure a lot of you reading this have already seen this movie, but if you haven’t, go seek it out. I’m pretty sure you’ve never seen anything like it before.
-Johnny Zontal (@johnnyzontal)