Every once in a while I completely miss the mark with a film, and I certainly did so with REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA when I first saw it, fucking fifteen years ago.
“Zydrate comes in a little glass vial.”
“A little glass vial?”
“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. Surgery.”
REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (REPO! going forward) musically portrays a BLADE RUNNER inspired dystopian future where massive organ failures wipes out the bulk of the population. The company GeneCo, run by CEO Rotti Largo, facilitates organ replacement and refinement on a payment plan but, if you miss a payment, they’re legally able to repossess organs by any means necessary.
We’re then introduced to Shilo, an extraordinarily pale Alexa PenaVega, the daughter of Ritto’s ex-fiancée and who has rare blood disease. Shilo is overly sheltered by her father Nathan, sinisterly portrayed by Anthony Steward Head. Matters escalate as everyone — including Rotti’s three desperate children, which includes SKINNY PUPPY’s ogHr — work towards their own self-interests.
“Lungs and livers and bladders and hearts /
You’ll always save a bundle when you buy our genetic parts /
Spleens and intestines and spines and brains /
High are our prices but our quality’s the same”
As stated right in the title, this is an opera — a goth-as-fuck rock opera — and has all of the trappings of one: it’s wall-to-wall extremely infectious, emotional goth/industrial songs and Greek chorus and family melodrama.
“My brother and sister should fuck.”
I attended a screening of it at the Music Box as part of the REPO! Road Tour with a post-film Q&A that included director director Darren Lynn Bousman and it grated on me. I found the film sweaty, especially the gaussian blur which felt unnecessarily tacky, despite that it seems to be trying to recreate the look of nitrate film. I did appreciate the moxie of those behind the production, especially Bousman’s efforts which absolutely took advantage of his directorial access to SAW IV’s sets and resources in order to realize REPO!.
“I’m infected /
By your genetics /
And I don’t think that I can be fixed /
No, I don’t think that I can be fixed /
Oh, tell me why, oh /
Why are my genetics such a bitch.”
Upon a recent rewatch, I realized my initial opinion was gravely wrong. Since my first watch, I’ve become a fan of musicals so I was able to greatly appreciate the influence of Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD, the patter inspired by THE MUSIC MAN’s Meredith Willson, the drama of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the driven emotion of Les Misérables, even the rich history of pirate songs, and a hilariously sick sense of humor. This time around, I saw how it lovingly leaned on the structure of opera and I was here for it.
“DECAF?! I will shoot you in the face!”
I still don’t love the gaussian filter that distracts from the extremely striking makeup and fetish costume design; the Repo Man outfit is especially well-executed. There is way too much exposition, often doled out by finely illustrated comic panels almost certainly included because of budgetary constraints. While I tried to be as concise as possible regarding the plot, this is an extremely dense and ambitious work with all sorts of intertwined conflicts and duplicity and back-story that can feel both overwhelming while also feeling unnecessary.
“How’d you do that?”
“That eye thing.”
“These eyes can do more than see.”
“I know. I mean, I’ve seen you sing.”
“From my window. I can see the world from there /
Name the stars and constellations /
Count the cars and watch the seasons.”
With this rewatch, I simply allowed the film to wash over me and I loved it. There are so many great lines and songs in it and when the exposition lets up, it finds a fantastic flow that will leave you breathless.
“Your mother would be proud, rest her soul, would be so proud of you /
Though you cannot see her /
She is here with you /
We will always be there for you in your time of need /
Shilo, you mean the world to me.”
Paul Sorvino’s work here as Rotti Largo is remarkable. He takes it far more seriously than need be given his stature, all sinister and greed but occasionally sensitive, and his voice will blow you away.
“Maggots. Vermin. /
You want the world for nothing. /
Commence your groveling, your king is dying. /
Rotti, your king, is dying. /
Even Rotti Largo cannot prevent this passing. /
Who will inherit GeneCo? /
I’ll keep those vultures guessing. /
I’ll keep those vultures guessing.”
This is a quintessential passion project. It originated as a theater production shepherded into existence by Darren Smith, then a short film from Darren Lynn Bousman, then this astounding feature film. I’ve noted that often music-centric productions — such as the film adaptation of CATS — have a scrappy charm to them. That sort of pluck and charm is absolutely on display here, that exacting belief in the batshitcrazy creation you want to put in-front of people. I was not prepared for REPO! the first time I saw it, but give it a chance. I was deadly wrong about it the first time around and hopefully you’ll revel in its charms.
“Flesh is weak /
Blood is cheap.”
The excellent magazine and website RUE MORGUE has an interview with director Darren Lynn Bousman, looking back on REPO! fifteen years after its release. This interview was the impetus for my rewatch and, consequently, this recommendation!