PREFACE/HATE MAIL DETERRENCE
Occasionally there is movie that I really enjoy and everyone else hates. My opinion is never based upon, nor beholden to the general consensus. I love Josie and the Pussycats but hate Superbad. I adore Running Scared but found Iron Man to be deeply problematic and tiresome.
The fact of the matter is that there is a paucity of new ideas at the movies. And, even though Repo! The Genetic Opera is indeed a mess; it’s a glorious mess. It won’t be for everyone, but for a select few, those who go in with an open mind and an understanding that the plot is far from traditional, it is something to behold.
Though the film is ultimately a failure on most standard levels, I think it is a great success in the realm of expanding the emotional palette of a horror film and opening up new avenues of expression. I firmly believe that the mainstream has been too quick to condemn Repo! and that it deserves a second chance.
There are two ways in which a movie can succeed.
One—it can have a fully realized plot that works to explain some larger subtextual moral. It can demonstrate a mastery of technical and thematic areas and create an emotional response in the viewer. This is the route that most critics look for when giving a positive review. Films like Schindler’s List. On the Waterfront. A Streetcar Named Desire.
The other way in which a movie can succeed is with ideas. This type of movie doesn’t have to make sense in the same way that a traditional film does. It simply has to take you somewhere you have never been, and hopefully throw your mind through a few loops along the way. Films like El Topo. The Fountain. Eraserhead. Gummo. The Exterminating Angels.
Repo! The Genetic Opera definitely falls into the latter category.
The story, told entirely through song, details the intersecting secrets of people living in a world where a mysterious virus has caused random organ failure and forced people to resort to leasing cloned organs, at a very high price.
There is so much whimsy in this film that it almost becomes an absurdist fairytale. It skips and jumps from one homage to the next, cribbing notes from Rocky Horror in one scene before moving on to Rigoletto in the next. Genres and archetypes are thrown up against one another and mashed together with reckless abandon mixing Grand Guignol with Sondheim and Disney with Faces of Death. It cuts together the pieces of our collective pop culture consciousness the same way that the antagonists cut together new forms for their bodies.
And it’s wickedly funny too.
Picking up where the ultimate consumers of Romero’s shopping malls left off, Repo! makes for a brutal satire of consumer culture where human flesh is a commodity bought and sold with government approval. People have designer spines and get upgrades on their bodies when they go in for maintenance on their artificial organs. Starlets don’t forget to wear panties, they forget to sew on their new faces.
Darren Lynn Bousman has made a name for himself as a go-to guy for over the top, operatic gore and he doesn’t shy away from it here. Repo! is often tremendously bloody with sanguine spilling left and right, often directly on top of naked flesh. He takes what he learned making Saw II--IV and pushes in into overdrive as he uses it to skewer one satirical target after the next.
Normally I am one to shy away from sexualized violence. I find it repulsive and saddening, but here, Bousman has found that perfect mix between sexy and grotesque. Though the bloodletting is vicious, it never spills over into elaborate rape fantasy. It is a shame that he is no longer attached to the Hellraiser relaunch.
The cast, made up of a bizarre collection of geek favorites, musicians and world famous opera singers is almost weirder than the movie’s central conceit. Paul Sorvino is brilliant fun as the patriarch who controls the world but finds himself unable to defeat cancer. Sorvino is fascinating to watch when he is let loose and he has a singing voice to rival any star of stage. Sarah Brightman is also quite good in a small roll that is entirely divorced from her signature turn in Phantom of the Opera. The rest of the cast is a bit of a mixed bag. Alexa Vega is strong as the cloistered daughter of the eponymous organ ripper and Anthony Stewart Head outdoes his Buffy singing, even as his role is too close to that of Giles. Meanwhile Bill Mosely is obnoxious and all over the place, playing his seventh version of Chop-top while Paris Hilton is actually shockingly watchable as Amber Sweet, a heightened reality version of herself. But the real standout is Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy. The man steals the show as a deformed lothario who has a nasty habit of killing his lovers.
At a point, the film becomes as scattershot as the cast list with some moments hitting it out of the park while others miss wildly. By the end of the film one would be hard pressed to explain how the characters all end up in the same place, but it has long since ceased to matter because you’ve either accepted that the film is fairly divorced from reality, or else, you’ve walked out of the theater. I stayed, and loved every minute of it.
When I see a movie like this, I want to be taken to a new world. Somewhere strange and alien. The futuristic retro-chic of the Repo’s alternate dimension is vibrant and dazzling, it’s a whirling dervish of colors and styles. And though it never comes together, the overwhelming strangeness of it is intoxicating. The music is not for everyone, and the bloodletting is extreme, but Repo! offers something rarely seen at the multiplex--originality.