Repo! The Genetic Opera

Repo! The Genetic Opera ★★★½

2-Minute Review:

I feel bad for not logging this one back around Halloween when it was more relevant, but I had a deadline for an article and a vacation to Panama looming and not enough time. The piece I originally wrote this in is for Frame Rated (UK) here:

"A film adaptation of a legitimate rock opera stage show, Repo! features singing or that kind of sing-songy speaking from start to finish. Comic panel opening text leads to a Gothic graveyard scene that recalls both The Nightmare Before Christmas and Repo Men (2010) in a future where everyone dresses like they’re in a Danzig video while being obsessed with organ transplants, plastic surgery, and corpse-sourced designer painkillers. So, modern day Los Angeles.

The titular “repos” happen to people’s organs, with predictable results, meaning this film doesn’t skimp on the gore. However, there’s a lot of playfully dark comedy in the music and the story, resulting in those gruesome aspects being so over-the-top as to be bearable. And Anthony Stewart Head anchors a fantastic cast of singers in a story of family dynasties that makes the whole thing relatable. Closest comparison is probably the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode “Once More With Feeling”, only with more early-2000s rock."


For the Real Cinephiles:

Like a lot of musicals, your mileage will vary greatly based on how much you get into the music, which may be the biggest strike against this one. The original stay show was written several years before the film, and it's a tour through every unfortunate trend in early-2000s "nu-metal". From jaunty post-punk that recalls Paramore to chant-rap metal like Saliva to genuine operatic industrial rock like Evanescence, there are plenty of styles here to love...most of which feel incredibly dated already.

That said, the performers are mostly pretty great! It is such a goddam joy to hear Anthony Stewart Head (who sang in a small rock band years before joining Buffy the Vampire Slayer) back in the saddle with some tortured rock ballads. He has a juicy role in this that seems unfortunately to be dubbed over at points where his voice doesn't fit the kind of song. But the ones where he does sing are <chef's kiss>. For a different generation, seeing the Spy Kids girl all grown and sexy and singing will be super cool. Or for the theater kids, the inarguable best singer/songs are from the legendary Sarah Brightman, who acts pretty well here, too. Classic character actor Paul Sorvino also has a shockingly good voice, and Terrance Zdunich rises from stage to screen with a great presence as the Graverobber.

The style is also something that is going to be either immediately up some people's alley, or an immediate barrier to liking this. It's SO late '90s/early '00s, with that kind of polished Goth presence that seemed a little too fashionable to ultimately keep its cred as rebellious. But it's dark and it's cool and it's often gory and rather horrific, so that sub-section of Horror lovers not turned off by such things will find a lot to like here where they may normally avoid a musical. The dark, sardonic themes of the uber-rich stealing other people's faces and trapped in a relentless quest for public approval are likely to hit the mark. And dare I say there's a heartfelt tragedy underneath all this?

This isn't going to be for everyone (and I don't think I'll end up re-watching it) but it's such a cool, individual film. Ultimately, the story is a bit convoluted and much of the humor is cheesy, with the acting sometimes veering into camp, too. But I want more stuff like this made and more small movies taking huge swings like this. Definitely worth seeking out.

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