Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

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Sarah Brightman could barely hide her surprise.
Sarah Brightman could barely hide her surprise.

Twitter Plot Summary: In a future where organ repossession is legal, if people can’t keep up repayments they’re up for the chop. Literally.

It is the near future, and organ transplants are as common and fashionable as part exchanging your car. The prices are so ridiculous that many find it difficult to maintain repayments, and so GeneCo, the company responsible for the organ replacement parts, send in the Repo Men to take back their property. This isn’t your average rock opera, a mixture of black comedy, blood and guts. If you can compare it with anything else, it seems that The Rocky Horror Picture Show may be a not so distant cinematic cousin.

Alex Vega is thrown into the mix as a young girl who is kept in isolation by her father due to her weak immune system, wearing what seems to be an awful goth wig. But then the fact it’s a wig is linked to her weak immune system so we’ll let that one slide.
There are a couple of unique selling points here – besides the music of course, which over the course of 50+ songs provides a tour de force of rock opera. Those other plus points are Anthony Head as Nathan, not only a competent singer but able to switch between fatherly and sadistic at a moment’s notice. Then there is the Graverobber, portrayed by Terrance Zdunich. He has little to do with the main story, instead turning up at random intervals and getting to sing some of the best songs.

Repo! is a good example of the modern diversification of musical theatre and cinema, playing up to the conventions of the musical format but doing so in a dark, gruesome and thoroughly different style. Ignoring the frequently poor CGI, there are regular cuts away to comic book style storyboards to bridge the gaps in the live action. It’s an interesting stylistic choice, one that is a little odd at first but soon blends in well with the material that surrounds it.

Zydrate comes in a little glass vial. A little glass vial. A little glass vial.
Zydrate comes in a little glass vial. A little glass vial. A little glass vial.

The CGI really isn’t the focus however, it’s the story and characters that carry it. Some low grade CGI actually fits quite nicely with the grim setting and comic book overtones. To complain about the relative lack of depth to that story may be a little churlish, what with the solid performances, good tunes and visual aesthetics, but the fact of the matter is that there isn’t much depth outside of Nathan wanting to protect his daughter from the big bad world. More could have been made of the effects of people’s dependency on the street drug Zydrate, the legal murder of people to repossess their organs, or even expanding on the role of the Graverobber, but then you can’t always have it all.

Perhaps even more surprising is that Paris Hilton isn’t that bad as Amber Sweet. There was a suggestion at the time that she was nothing more than stunt casting, but believe it or not she’s rather good as the demanding, got to have it all daughter of Paul Sorvino’s GeneCo businessman Rotti Largo (who has a great operatic voice, it has to be said). But then if you think about it, playing a spoiled “it” girl is hardly a stretch of her abilities. She certainly gets a better deal than Bill Moseley as her brother Luigi. He’s reliable for sure, but his over the top characterisation seems a bit much even in context to the rest of the film.

There’s a final mention due for Sarah Brightman who plays Blind Mag and appears in a rare acting role. Again though, she is hardly stretching her capabilities by simply showing up, looking a bit gothic and singing a fair bit. Thankfully she gets it right and hits all the right notes (pun intended).

So it’s not perfect, but the songs, dark moments and equally dark comic moments all create something that is decidedly unique and a worthy entry in the pantheon of rock operas that have been turned into movies. Not that there are many out there, admittedly.

Score: 3.5/5

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