In high school, I was a huge theater nerd. I was big into musicals of all shapes and sizes. I watched the Tony Awards every year and picked up all the new soundtracks for just about everything that showed up during that time. In spite of that, Repo! The Genetic Opera still manages to be like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It reminds me of Rocky Horror and Sweeney Todd while not being derivative. It’s gritty. It’s gory. The cinematography is along the lines of highly stylized films like Sin City. It’s a star-studded affair, pulling from both actors and musicians to put together an ensemble cast who pulls off the difficult medium of the film musical beautifully. The art direction and score are dark and exciting.
Repo! takes place in the not-so-distant future. After a devastating epidemic of organ failure that wipes out millions, GeneCo, a pharmaceutical company, and its founder Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) come to the rescue of the destitute, offering organ transplants on a payment plan. Because these organ transplants are so affordable, they soon become more than just a necessity. They become the latest fashion trend. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” In addition, GeneCo releases Zydrate, a powerful and highly addictive painkiller for dealing with the trauma of organ transplant. With the increase in frivolous organ transplants, there are eventually those who cannot keep up with their payments. To combat those who fall behind, Largo gets government approval for the creation of Repo Men, assassins who hunt down those who owe and take back what that cannot pay for. In addition, to keep up with the demand for Zydrate, an underground market develops, selling a lesser version of the drug extracted from the dead. Largo learns that he has an incurable disease and worries about finding an heir to his vast empire; his three children (Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Ogre) regularly engage in less than savory activities and are a complete embarrassment to him. In the midst of all this is Shilo (Alexa Vega) who is stricken with a blood disorder and kept confined to her room by her overprotective father, Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head). She longs to be a part of the outside world. When Shilo’s life collides with that of Largo and Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), the voice of GeneCo, everything is turned upside down.
One of the most fascinating and elements of this movie is the use of comic panels for plot exposition. Rather than flashback or lengthy explanations, the characters’ pasts are divulged through highly stylized comic panels, some animated, some not. It’s extremely effective and ties in well with the equally stylized cinematic direction.
The score is reminiscent of Rent, Rocky Horror, and Sweeney Todd; there are a lot of power chords and heavy drum beats. As with any good musical, you definitely find yourself humming bits of the songs even after one viewing. One of my few complaints about the music is that it seemed in a few places to try a bit to hard to make itself an opera; there were a few songs that fell flat and seemed to exist purely to avoid dialogue. Even those songs, though, are well performed. Unlike some musical films of late, there weren’t any actors picked solely for their star power hoping the audience would ignore their less than stellar singing.
There are a couple of caveats that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention. First, if you do not like musicals, chances are you will not like this movie. While it isn’t technically an opera, it’s very much more song than dialogue. There’s really no getting around that. Secondly, if you have a problem with blood and gore, you may very well have a hard time watching this. This movie is graphic and definitely not for the faint of heart. While the blood and gore tends towards the more ridiculous and outlandish, there are parts that are still tough to take. It is, after all, a story involving the repossession of internal organs… and they’re not afraid to show it.
If you can get past those two points, I highly recommend this film. The story, cast, art direction, and score all work to create a really great and unique movie experience.