Repo! The Genetic Opera
They say that variety is the spice of life. In a continuing attempt to embrace that variety here with One Movie Each Day, I’ve decided to dedicate each Wednesday review to the stranger side of cinema, the type of movies that I’d never normally watch, but that I’m kind of secretly glad exist. In celebration or in condemnation of the eccentric, the odd, the freaky, the kinky, the ghastly, the freaky, the fearful, and the flaky, I present the second installment of Wednesday Weirdness.
Last week’s Wednesday Weirdness review was a campy fourth-rate ball of gore that barely deserves to be called a movie. This week I’ve moved up a few notches. Repo! The Genetic Opera is still sometimes an exercise in cinematic gore, but it’s closer to a second, or even first-rate ball of gore. More importantly, it feels like a real movie, with real sets, real production values, real actors, and Paris Hilton. The film is a dark, twisted, fantasy musical that’s equal parts Saw and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s also incredibly creative, original, and even a little bit uplifting.
The film, true to it’s title relys heavily on original music throughout its tale of a post-apocalyptic future in which a medical mega-corporation has cured a plague through the use of artificially produced organs. This has lead to a culture obsessed with elective surgery, all of which can be financed. Of course, this means that the company employs a Repo man, who’s responsible for repossessing the organs of those who don’t keep up with their payments, usually through on-the-spot surgeries that are as brutal as they are inevitably lethal. All of this is presented as a rock musical, with most of the film’s dialog presented as original songs.
Anthony Stewart Head and Alexa Vega star as troubled father and daughter Nathan and Shilo Wallace. Head is, of course, fantastic. (Although, I did spend the entire movie expecting him to break into either a reprise of “Standing.” or a rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Shiloh”). I hadn’t seen Vega in anything before, but I thought she did an excellent job portraying Shilo’s mixture or vulnerability and angst, and I’m disappointed to learn from IMDb, that she hasn’t been in much else in the four years since this film was released. For me, however, the film’s best casting decision was putting the divine Sarah Brightman in the role of Blind Mag.
Ok, so maybe it wasn’t a huge stretch to cast a crossover opera singer in a character of a headlining opera singer, but in addition to her magnificent voice Brightman brings a real other-worldly presence that really heightens the film’s atmosphere whenever she is on screen. Also, Paris Hilton is in this movie. Normally I would consider that a pretty stern indictment of a film’s quality, (I’m looking at you House of Wax,) but in all honesty I didn’t even recognize her in the role of Amber Sweet. In fact, I found the character entirely convincing. Maybe it was the costuming and makeup, maybe just a matter of the the right person for the right part, or maybe Ms. Hilton is a better actress than I want to give her credit for, (prior to today I gave her less than zero credit,) but I had no problem with her performance in this film.
This film is certainly not for everybody. It is filled with dark, often disturbing imagery. The entire premise is incredibly bizarre. However, the film does a great job of executing a unique vision on a fairly limited budget. It is well paced, and makes the most of its run-time. I was pretty skeptical about this one going in but by the the last half-hour I was emotionally engaged with the characters. I enjoyed how the film was filled with shades of gray rather than clear-cut caricatures. Most every character had flaws to one degree or another, and even the primary villain had redeeming qualities and an understandable motive. Is it a great movie? No, not by any means. Is it worth seeing? Well, it’s a dark, gory musical that somehow manages to be inspiring, so yes. Definitely.