Cult Retrospect: “Repo! The Genetic Opera” (2008)
**WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS**
“Zydrate comes in a little glass vial, And the little glass vial goes into the gun like a battery, And the Zydrate gun goes somewhere against your anatomy, And when the gun goes off, it sparks, and you’re ready for surgery”- Graverobber
“Repo! The Genetic Opera” (2008) is a deliciously daring cult film that has spawned an unexpected phenomenon in terms of fandom especially since it was received negatiely by some critics upon its release. The consensus on Rotten Tomatoes.com claimed the film was “Bombastic and Gross”, many like myself would argue, gross in a good way! The film was picked up through touring across America. Director Darren Lyn Bousman and the cast and crew took part in extensive Q&A’s in order to promote their stylish horror rock opera. The cult following the film has achieved is phenomenal, fans embrace “Repo!” in a similar vein to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975). The dedication and effort the fans put into purchasing or making costumes for screenings demonstrates how passionately they regard the film that in terms of mainstream cinema is an acquired taste!
The story is set in a futuristic world where an organ epidemic threatens to eliminate the human race. The only hope for survival lies in “GeneCo” an organisation that is able to provide organ transplants through a payment plan. However, in a surgery addicted world many fail to make these payments and GeneCo sends out a Repo Man who takes back what they cannot afford, “He will rip the still beating heart from your chest!”. The results of mass surgery addiction has also accumulated a black market that creates a powerful anaesthetic called “Zydrate” that emerges from the brains of the dead and is handed out by a mysterious figure known as the Graverobber (Terrance Zdunich) who partly acts as a narrator. Following the backstory the plot takes a more intimate turn as it shows the personal lives of the characters involved and how they are ultimately entwined. We meet Nathan (Anthony Head) a desperate widower and father with a dark past who searches for a cure for his teenage daughter Shilo’s sickness, a blood disease he believes he has caused, Shilo (Alexa Vega) refuses to be a victim and dreams of being able to live a normal life. Little does she know, Nathan is in fact the Repo Man by night which takes the film onto a whole new complex and emotional level. The Villain comes in the shape of GeneCo’s CEO Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) who is dying of a terminal disease and does not trust his three kids Luigi (Bill Moseley), Pavi (Ogre) and Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton) to carry on his legacy. Rotti has manipulated Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) GeneCo’s star opera singer who will soon lose her eyes if she does not agree to a final performance and give up the stage for Amber Sweet. In order to discover more about this intriguing plot that becomes more twisted as the film goes on, I advise you to seek it out immediately!
As a musical, “Repo!” works on so many levels and has a little bit of everything, infectious rock anthems, beautiful, melodic opera pieces and a number of intriguing characters that push the plot along. It has the essence of a dark tragedy similar to other musicals of the same nature such as “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Jekyll and Hyde” as it tells the tale of a man driven into madness and carnage due to unfortunate circumstance. It does play on the conventions of musical theatre by using a narrator as an outside POV and the typical characters such as the young female who searches for something more that what she’s confined to. The fact that its a hybrid along with the horror genre ramps up the visual squeamishness of the piece with the blood and gore, that looks great against the dark backdrop. But its not all grim as it sounds there’s a nice balance of black humour added in especially with the Largo brothers who argue over their future inheritance and a musical number where the Repo man sings as he’s removing an organ out of his victim and the victim still manages to join him in song! The film is very stylish, it cleverly uses a comic book approach in order to depict flashback sequences which is refreshing rather than just using a black and white effect and the actors, its also reminiscent of graphic horror novels such as “Creepshow”. The way the film is shot is incredible with sweeping camera work on the detailed world we are embroiled into. The gothic costumes really make the film stand out and highlight its uniqueness while encouraging fans to try out some extreme and out-of-this world looks. The main attraction however has to be the cast who deliver outstanding performances, Anthony Head showcases his talent for both singing and acting as he sticks his knife into this dark role, he manages to create a sense of fear and empathy at the same time and just defines this tragic figure through his performance. Sarah Brightman is sensational as always in her first film role, conveying her talent for opera and providing the film with some haunting and eerie music pieces. Alexa Vega plays Shilo with an innocence and vulnerability and also has some fun teenage moments of angst in there. Paris Hilton is surprisingly good in this, her singing fits in well and she clearly has fun with the role. Terrance Zdunich is appealing and menacing and brings in an air of mystery with the Graverobber, questioning can the audience and Shilo trust him?
Unique, mesmerizing, visually astounding and unforgettable, there is no doubt that “Repo!” will hold a special place in cult cinema for many years to come. Everything about it just works, the music, the acting, the emotional depth of the story. Watch it once and you’ll be addicted just like Amber Sweet is to surgery!
Hayley Alice Roberts.
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