REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008)

REPO!  The Genetic Opera (2008)
A Review By Peter N. Dudar

This review has been a long time coming…

I first read about REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008) in an issue of Rue Morgue Magazine.  I paid particular attention to it as the movie featured actor Bill Moseley (Chop Top from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II, 1986, and more recently, Otis from Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, 2003, and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005) who happens to be one of my big-screen favorites, but the film came and went here in Maine pretty quickly and I never got to see it.  I hadn’t heard much fanfare about it from friends online, so I let it slip quietly past my radar.

Jump-cut to much earlier this year, when my wife finally talked me into signing up for Netflix streaming video.  It was a cold, late-winter night when I saw the title REPO! on the queue, and finally gave it a chance.  I’m very glad I did.  This film is beautifully fun and grotesque!

I know what you’re thinking…a rock opera?  It immediately brings forth visions of late 70s Andrew Lloyd Weber schlock like JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR or HAIR.  Or perhaps you’re familiar with REPO! already and thinking about the cult blockbuster THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.   But the fact is that this really does pass for an opera, and one deep-rooted in gore, violence, and the macabre.

REPO! opens in comic book box-panels (a nifty visual narrator for the film), informing us of the dystopian world we are about to enter, where GeneCo has saved the world from an epidemic of organ failures.  Only, GeneCo’s founder, Rottissimo “Rotti” Largo (Paul Sorvino, GOODFELLAS, 1990) has developed a terrible clause in his business ventures that those who fail to make payments on their transplants are subject to having those transplants repossessed.  This notion creates a moralistic fiber that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched in our own world, where cars, homes, and personal belongings are stripped away without hesitation in our dwindling economy.  We’re also introduced to the character of Grave-Robber (Terrance Zdunich, who served as writer, composer, producer, and assistant director on this project, over a ten-year labor of love to bring REPO! to life), who aids in setting the stage for the story we are about to witness.

REPO! concerns seventeen-year-old Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, 2012)—who suffers a rare blood disease handed down from her late mother—and her father, Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997), the Repo Man, who works directly for Rotti Largo to repossess the organs and parts of those who cannot pay their bills.  Nathan is in a precarious situation…he doesn’t want his daughter to know of the terrible, murderous acts he’s responsible for, all the while doing everything he possibly can to protect his sick daughter and keep her safe.  Through song and dialogue, their conflicted relationship is brought out, and the sadness for both characters is extremely palpable.  It feels like the terrible deeds Nathan is doing are totally justified, and that is a very important element to the story.

Meanwhile, Rotti Largo is dying, and his offspring are fighting over who is to take control of GeneCo once the old man is gone.  Luigi Largo (Bill Moseley…see above) believes HE should be the one to take control.  Luigi is a homicidally violent psychopath who feels very strongly that he is the glue that will hold the Largo family together after Rotti passes.  His brother Pavi (Nivek Ogre of the industrial band Skinny Puppy, and actor in movies such as THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, 2012), an absolute freak who finds fashion in wearing the skins of other people to conceal his own face, believes that HE should take over GeneCo, as he understands the fashion of the day is the latest surgical trend.  Their sister Amber Sweet, (an unrecognizable Paris Hilton, HOUSE OF WAX, 2005), IS addicted to plastic surgery, and is caught in the middle of this power struggle.  The problem is that Rotti already knows that he cannot leave the future of GeneCo in the hands of his progeny.

As REPO! progresses, we see that young Shilo is being torn apart by her ill-fated blood disease and the life of seclusion her father is forcing upon her.  So she ventures out to visit her mother’s grave to find comfort, and instead learns of the terrible secret of the Grave-Robber.  Apparently, the Grave-Robber is digging up past GeneCo subjects and extracting a chemical called Zydrate from their brains.  Zydrate is a euphoric chemical that dulls the senses so that those who are addicted to surgery can have a drug to take the edge off.  And, of course, Amber Sweet is addicted to surgery, and happens to be one of the Grave-Digger’s best customers.  This part of the film happens to be one of my favorites, as Grave-Digger encapsulates in song the terrible pathos of Amber Sweet and those others that keep him busy in his morbid business.

Through more of the comic book-panel box narrative, we learn about what actually happened to Shilo’s mother…how she was originally in love with Rotti Largo, and how Nathan Wallace won her love away from him.  We see just how much the dying Rotti Largo is still in control over Nathan, and how all the while he is scheming to turn Shilo against her dad by offering a cure for her disease, so that one day she might take control of the empire he has built with GeneCo.  And we see the conflict that is going to create among Rotti’s insane children.

We’re also introduced to Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman, a world-renowned soprano who has performed for millions worldwide), who is under contract with GeneCo after they fitted her with a new pair of eyes.  Blind Mag was friends with Shilo’s mother, and was unaware that Shilo made it through childbirth.  As Rotti’s plan to lure Shilo away from her father unfolds, Blind Mag pays a visit to her and Nathan, and tries to stop the inevitable tragedy that is currently shaping up.

At the heart of REPO! is the tragedy that is constantly evolving for poor Shilo.  We have a young girl that wants to live disease-free, and is being torn apart by her love for her father and her desire to be healthy and normal.  And we’re constantly at the mercy of a film with first-rate storytelling, beautifully memorable music, and the empathy we feel for the relationship between father and daughter.

REPO! never falters in delivering some grueling scenes of violence and gore, but it also delivers some first-rate performances (particularly from Sorvino, Brightman, and believe-it-or-not, Paris Hilton), breathtaking cinematography, and an absolutely brilliant soundtrack from writers Zdunich and Darren Smith—all beautifully directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.  As a fan of horror films and lover of musicals, I have to give REPO!  The Genetic Opera four knives.  I highly recommend this film, and hope you will add it to your Halloween movie marathon.

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

Peter Dudar gives REPO! The Genetic Opera ~four knives.

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