Starring: Alexa Vega, Anthony Head, Paul Sorvino, Bill Moseley, Paris Hilton, Sarah Brightman, Nivek Ogre, Terrance Zdunich
Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written By: Terrence Zdunich, Darren Smith
Darren Lynn Bousman has built his career through the sequels of the Saw franchise. Now he steps away from the popular franchise and presents us with something very different, not just from his Saw films, but something genuinely unique from anything else that’s out there right now. Especially in contemporary American horror we see so many of the same ideas and films being done over and over again. Repo! The Genetic Opera is bursting with passion and creativity from beginning to end. There have been gothic rock operas before, but Repo is more than the genres it deals with. There is no question that this film isn’t for everyone. It has a very specific audience, but for that audience Repo! The Genetic Opera is sure to be an instant cult classic.
The film takes place in 2056 when a global epidemic of organ failures occur. A biotech company, GeneCo, emerges to help finance those who need organ transplants. The only catch is if you slip up on a payment the organs will be repossessed by the Repo Man as he guts and snatches your insides. Shilo (Vega) is very ill and is forced by her father, Nathan (Head), to live her life in the confinement of her room. He fears that it is not safe for her out in the world where murder is permitted and surgery addicts cling to drugs, making going under the knife a fashion statement. Having lost her mother to the same disease, Shilo grows weary of only having contact with her father who is constantly nagging and worrying about her. She attempts to live through GeneCo’s main star, Blind Mag (Brightman), watching her perform from her bedroom. Soon Shilo ventures to the outside world where she stumbles upon a grave robber (Zdunich) who reveals piles of dead corpses to her. Before long Rotti Largo (Sorvino), the founder of GeneCo, spots her and presents her with a very enticing option. Rotti promises her the cure to her disease, which is the thing that she craves the most. This could be her chance to really live and explore the world outside of her own walls.
As Shilo is thrown in to brutality, addiction, instability, and revenge she begins to question what she is getting in to. This is evident through the Largo kids constantly changing appearances and becoming more and more unstable through the dependency on surgery and drugs. They are always disappointing their father who doesn’t think them worthy of his legacy. What really sets Shilo over the edge is what she is asked to do in order to get the cure that she has been longing for. The truth of overwhelming deceptions that have been surroundings her come to light. It might be enough to tempt her to give in to her vengeful side all in the name of GeneCo.
Repo! The Genetic Opera has one of the most unusual yet talented casts. Everyone fits perfectly in to their roles. I have always thought Alexa Vega was a good actress and she really proves herself here, carrying the film as our lead and the most sympathetic character. She has a beautiful voice and adds great expression and heart to the film. Her choices in the movie really show how she has grown as she is taking on more adult material.
I have never had an ounce of respect for Paris Hilton. She never showed much potential to me and seemed to just be in films that would keep her in the public eye rather than really having anything to bring to the table. I never thought I would be applauding Hilton’s efforts, but she actually did very well through her among this material. Amber Sweet is really the perfect role for her. There are many similarities between Hilton and Sweet, mainly that both are rich and famous heiresses, constantly on the spot and being watched. Her character’s addiction to surgery relates to Hilton’s tendency to be so concerned with appearance. Obviously there are more literal addictions that are similar between them, but Amber Sweet is a much more severe and fragile case, especially in the context of the film. Hilton brings forth an inner understanding of the character and brings Amber Sweet vividly to life.
Anthony Stewart Head did an incredible job through the split personality between the loving but almost obsessively possessive and overprotective father of Shilo and the brutal Repo Man viciously ripping out the organs for the company he is a slave to. He brings forth completely different mannerisms, gestures, stances, and even voices. His voice switches from rugged and dark to smooth and concerned. He shows remorse, confusion, regret, and brutality between both roles and is both a villain and a victim at the same time.
Sarah Brightman is a sight to behold as Blind Mag. She has blacked out eyes, as the eyes she now sees with were taken from a corpse and shoved in to her eye sockets. She is very much an icon, but a miserable one at that. Brightman’s voice is simply mesmerizing. Although Mag hides it well she is very much lifeless until a spark of life is given to her when she learns that Shilo is still alive. Even if it might be too late she comes to a revelation of new found strength.
Paul Sorvino, the veteran actor that he is, gave a powerful performance. Rotti is set in his ways, disregarding his own children and using others to get back at them for feelings of betrayal of what happened years ago. Sorvino really brought out a corruption, need for power and control of others, and was quite the manipulator. More of the essential evil in him could have been brought out further if all of the story lines would have allowed, but there already is a lot going on. Bill Moseley and Nivek Ogre are both very amusing and bring out an almost animalistic craze. I also enjoyed the very Leatherface-esque attachment to putting others’ faces on his own that Pavi clings too. Terrance Zdunich as the grave robber really frames the brutal and crooked levels that humanity has been subjected tom while still bringing understanding to the character.
GeneCo’s existence really shows how tragedy can just be an opportunity for further victimization. Rather than helping out of concern the goal is to obtain the power to lord over those whose lives were saved, for many only to be brutally murdered later. GeneCo has the whole world in a trance as propaganda and false representations are everywhere. Having one thing isn’t enough as they even bring in those from the opera that they put on. From healthcare to advertising to entertainment and fashion, they have several markets covered, just waiting to suck as many in as they can. The obsession with surgery and the glamorization of it in particular is really just a dramatization of the fixation we have on image. A fear of not being accepted and confirming insecurities is shown through Amber Sweet’s constant surgery and Pavi always wearing someone else’s face, never his own. This is very real today especially through some of the pressures that age and weight impose. The film shows how harmful this can be not just through the condition it puts the characters in, but even more drastically as we see flesh falling apart and becoming a more monstrous image than they certainly were before.
Going in to this film it is crucial that you remember what it is: an opera. There is a word or two of spoken word, but it is really just lingering from the songs and is not shared between one character to another. Repo! The Genetic Opera is packed full of songs, very possibly too much for some. However, the entire film with many different sub-plots and characters is all told through these songs. The music is inventive, full of atmosphere, and has a purpose in that it tells us the story effectively. Some are more upbeat yet edgy such as Alexa Vega’s “Seventeen” while others are much slow-paced and somber. Many of the musical numbers by the more crazed characters, who are very in sync with the ways of the world in 2056, are almost trance like. They are detached from one moment to the other, showing the inconsistencies that the characters singing embody as in “Zydrate Atonomy”.
Repo! The Genetic Opera is a very gothic film with dark shadows and tones. There is great contrast in the lighting though as it seems so much, but particularly Shilo and Mag, are constantly glowing. There are comic illustrations in between several of the musical numbers that help give clear context and narrates what is happening now and the horrors of some of the characters’ pasts. There is a lot that is hidden from other characters, but we are able to understand these prevailing lies and injustices even when the characters are still ignorant of this. The colors and drawings are vibrant and really jump out at you. All of the images in the film really take you in to this dreamlike, very dark and disturbing world. However, don’t be expecting Saw’s type of gore or you will be disappointed. There is still a good amount of blood without being overdone. One of the first images we see is an enormous pile of dead bodies that have been victim to organ repossession. It is disturbing and sets the tone for the film. When we see the repo man in action the insides are shown completely being ripped apart. There are a few other brutal deaths that are actually strongest from the suddenness rather than the actual blood.
This is a film that is really meant to be seen in a theater full of fans. It was one of the best theater experience I have had and although it is a fantastic film no matter how you watch it, the fun of it is really brought out best seeing in in a theater. Repo! The Genetic Opera deserves much more recognition and should be shown to a wider audience. This is not a film most mainstream movie goers would respond to, but there is an audience for this film. With all the material Repo! The Genetic Opera has it doesn’t waste storylines.
There are a lot of different sub-plots and viewpoints, but every one connects to the other, making each stronger. The film is very much in the spirit of opera especially with the element of tragedy. There are some questions left unanswered, but this does leave room for a sequel or even more likely, a prequel. Repo! The Genetic Opera would be great left alone, but as long as the same people are involved with the project it could bring a lot of understanding to how this hectic state of being became so prevalent and if things could really turn anymore disastrous. Repo! The Genetic Opera is one of the best and definitely most original horror films of 2008. I have immense respect for everyone who was involved in this film and hope they continue to go after unordinary and challenging film standards. It is the only film I have seen done completely through song, which actually seems more natural than the transitions between dialogue and song that are in musicals. The writing is smart and witty, the direction is captivating, the acting is astounding, the images are atmospheric, and the music is eerie; a great representation of the characters, and tells us an intriguing story.