Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by Darren Smith & Terrence Zdunich (screenplay & play)
Starring Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head, Alexa Vega, Bill Moseley, Terrance Zdunich, & Paris Hilton
Though REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA doesn’t really live up to the expectations that were unfairly placed upon it (or prematurely touted by its creators as a cult classic) upon its release, it still is a pretty interesting mix of horror, sound, and stage. More than any of our other films featured here today, REPO! actually is the most like BURLESQUE (the reason why I chose this musically horrific theme for today’s column) in that it plays much like a stage play, sports a cast of genre actors, and features a debutante that is often in the spotlight. Though many would prefer to see Aguilera squirm like she’s got a cube of dry ice in her body suit and Cher strain her cheek-skin to crack a smile, I’d rather see Paris Hilton’s face peel off on stage any old day. I don’t know. I’m just weird that way.
REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA is set in the near future, where corporations own everything, including body parts that are loaned out and usually paid off in a timely manner. But if you’re late on a payment, the Repo Men seek you out and remove the loaned out parts forcefully and without anesthetic. This is a nice and somewhat original concept to hang a horror musical on, but the problem with REPO! isn’t in the ideas it has, but with the execution. Much like a lot of goth culture, there’s a lot of interesting things to look at here, but not a lot of substance behind it. Looked at closely, the movie falls apart due to its desire to be edgy and unique. The problem is, as always, when one is trying to be cool, more often than not, you’re going to fail. I think that’s what REPO!’s main problem was—it was trying to be the next big cult hit, but the makers of this film just aren’t in the position to determine that. That duty lies solely on the shoulders of the audience. Had the director and the folks behind it tried as hard to just make a film that was technically and structurally solid instead of trying to be the ROCKY HORROR for the new millennium, I think they would have been onto something.
The other thing REPO! has going against it is that the songs aren’t that great or memorable. I watched it once when it was released and again about an hour ago and for the life of me, I honestly can’t remember one song. I’m not asking for some kind of cheesy jingle like “Memories” or “Music of the Night”, but with the talent behind this film, there should have been some better music. Rag on musicals all you want, but every successful one has at least one song that resonates beyond the stage or screen. When the most memorable song is the one Paris Hilton is singing, there’s a problem here.
But I can’t be too hard on REPO! There are a lot of folks that really hate the film, but I’m not one of them. Darren Lynn Boussman did a really good job of capturing the feeling of a stage play. The story may actually play better in the theatre rather than a movie theater as evidenced by the elaborate set pieces and moody scenes. Writers Darren Smith & Terrance Zdunich (Zdunich is also in the middle of writing a fantastic comic book called THE MOLTING which should be sought out by any fan of great graphically illustrated horror) should be commended for taking the road less traveled by not going the traditional route with vampires or zombies. The Repo Men are pretty horrific creatures and the wicked world around them is equally terrifying. Though the plot is often overly complicated with Machiavellian twists and Shakespearian tragedies, the horror basics of it are things we haven’t seen before.
The cast here is pretty fantastic. Paul Sorvino is given an opera to sing and does so beautifully. Anthony Head and Alexa Vega also do a pretty fantastic job with both acting and vocals. Even Paris Hilton gets to shine in a role where she pretty much plays herself taken to a horrific level. If anything, to see this fantastic cast of genre and obscure actors bounce off of each other is the reason to seek this film out.
REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA is a film I really wanted to love, but only walked away liking. The fantastic cast, the abundance of good ideas and technically interesting set pieces and scenes don’t make up for the fact that it falls short when it all comes together and the songs just didn’t stick with me. Many compared REPO! to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and said it fell short of that film. I’ve never been a big fan of ROCKY HORROR to tell you the truth because it felt like a parody—as if a bunch of folks were laughing at horror rather than with it. At least REPO! embraces horror and for that, I feel it is superior to ROCKY HORROR. But that’s just me. The folks behind REPO! swung for a homerun, and though it didn’t quite make it over the fence, it is a noble effort. REPO! wanted to be a cult classic a bit too much, but it has a lot going for it and is worth seeking out.