Repo! The Genetic Opera
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Starring Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head, Sarah Brightman, Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, Nivek Ogre, Terrance Zdunich. (2008, R, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 7, 2008
What could be more suited to the classic operatic format than a cyber-gothic story of family treachery, clandestine drug-running, and the age-old quest for eternal beauty? Not much, I'll give you that, and Repo! The Genetic Opera – while not to everyone's tastes, to be sure – is a hugely ambitious affair, chock-full of love and death, hideously disfigured trickery, and foolhardy fathers who love their daughters to death … and quite possibly beyond. It even has Ogre, of industrial-rock icon Skinny Puppy, wearing someone else's face: It's Shakespeare in the Too Dark Park. Set in a 21st century America devastated by a mysterious plague that causes sudden organ failure, Repo! follows the appropriately scandalous and sordid story of GeneCo, a family-run medical dynasty that allows the surviving citizenry the chance not only to survive their internal combustion but to engineer new bodies and faces (if not always minds). As a commentary on human vanity, Repo! is witheringly dead-on; as a full-fledged opera, it's somewhat less memorable but still well worth checking out if you're in the mood for some pseudo-Rocky Horror theatrics. And Repo! is nada if not theatrical in the extreme. It makes the recent Sweeney Todd seem like a model of upstanding civic and social behavior. As befits its operatic origins, Repo!'s plot is as twisted as the gooshy loops of human intestines which frequently litter the screen. Spy Kids' Vega is teen gothling Shilo Wallace, a black-bewigged sufferer of an unknown pathogen who finds her life constrained by her father, Nathan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Head), who has forbidden her to leave the grounds of the dark and dreary family manse. Dear old dad has a double identity, however. He's also the organ Repo Man, a serial vivisectionist clandestinely employed by the corrupt head of GeneCo, the aptly named Rotti Largo (Sorvino, exuberantly devouring his role along with most of the scenery). Recently diagnosed with an unnamed terminal illness, Rotti is loathe to bequeath his beloved GeneCo to his psychopathic offspring (among them Hilton and The Devil's Rejects' Moseley). Instead, he schemes to lure the innocent Shilo from her father's clutches and into his own. To reveal more would be to deprive you of half the pleasure of Repo!, i.e., the sheer, disorienting melodramatics of all these nefarious goings-on. While Repo! is hardly perfect – barely a day after seeing it I can hardly recall a single song, of which there are many – the film boasts some deliciously gothic set design, and the entire cast seems to be having the time of their lives (and deaths). It's not often you come across a film as unique as this, and while my taste for liver, lights, and sweetbreads isn't what it once was, this is still a fine post-Halloween aperitif, with guts to spare.