Sunday, June 21, 2009
Feaure Length Review: 'Repo! The Genetic Opera' (2008)
A futuristic horror/rock/opera; is such a filmic combination even possible to fathom? You bet it is. Creators Terrence Zdunich and Darren Smith have helped aid director Darren Lynn Bousman (of Saw II-IV fame) in adapting their fiercely independent stage production to the enormity of the big screen for what has turned out to be a labour of love for all involved. Repo! The Genetic Opera is an explosion of comically macabre ideas and vibrant imagery, fuelled by a sharp industrial soundtrack that makes for a highly unique film refusing to follow the status quo.
THE LOWDOWN: In the not-too-distant future (ain’t it always the case?) a deadly world epidemic devastates the planet, causing the majority of humanity’s organs to fail. In the wake of the tragedy, a bio-tech company named GeneCo offers survivors organ transplants…for a price. If a patient cannot keep up with their scheduled payments GeneCo sends out legalized assassins known as ‘Repo Men’ to hunt down and retrieve the company's rightful property.
Amid the grim post-apocalyptic landscape the majority of the human population has become addicted to plastic surgery as a result of their’ failing bodies. By request of her seemingly serene father Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head), young Shilo (Alexa Vega) is bed-ridden from a fatal blood disease, restricting her contact with the outside world to the view from her window. Leading a secret life as a Repo Man himself, Nathan’s hidden past soon comes back to haunt him when GeneCo founder Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) threatens to open the skeleton’s closet if he refuses to carry out a job involving Shilo’s Godmother, Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman). These and other truths are finally revealed at one wildly anticipated spectacular event: The Genetic Opera!
THE TERROR TALE & ITS TIMING: Before this terrifically atypical stage play was realized on celluloid, Zdunich and Smith’s twisted musical opus was shopped around for many years to find the right director to puppet its intricately maniacal strings. Coming off the success of the first two Saw sequels, Darren Bousman had a strong repour with the theatre production and demanded he be the man to helm the adaptation should it reach the silver screen. His passion for the material is certainly evident in the filmic transformation, however differing quite considerably from the original stage version. Taking elements of the aforementioned series but spinning them in a grinder with the fetish fashions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the bleak technological landscape of Blade Runner, the accumulated result is a sensory overload that begs your attention from the first gleefully warped frame to the last. There is so much for the audience to feast on, from the electric song numbers and flamboyant costumes to the bloody disorder and larger-than-life characters. The sheer explosion of collaborative imagination on show is a true over-the-top delight to behold (provided you have a taste for excess and the playfully gruesome).
Like many other views of the future, Repo! is an austere creation, looming with social destruction and urban decay; the streets are crowded with deviants, the architecture disintegrating, the rich trample the poor, etc. But unlike most concept-heavy sci-fi epics the movie’s themes and ideas become more simplified through its operatic nature, rather than convoluted and puzzling. At no point during the mayhem does the film ever take itself seriously, and thank god it doesn’t as the ideas and thematic content become much easier to digest as a result of its consistently toung-in-cheek sensibility.
The film also incorporates a strong comic book consciousness amid the pandemonium – most notably the illustrated flashback montages that branch each character’s back story – that further enrich its narrative drive. And while Zdunich and Smith’s screenplay is at times appropriately campy in tone it also has moments of genuine tragedy and melodrama that provide an emotional gravity as well as levity to the action.
DOOMED CHARACTERS: In the vein of an already eccentric premise, Repo!’s demented charactership is equally, if not more inflated with wild exaggeration. Rotti Largo and his bitter offspring (including Bill Mosely in a hugely enjoyable role as the ill-tempered elder son Luigi) boast relentlessly throughout the film as if on an accelerated ADD streak, Nathan’s Repo Man persona relishes his work with gaudy delight and even smaller supporting players such as the semi-narrating Graverobber (played by Zdunich himself) chew the scenery as if it were to never diminish. And while it could be argued that Alexa Vega is perhaps miscast as the film’s leading heroic figure, rivaling the stage with a sizeable cast of prominent character actors whilst also having to communicate her character’s journey through musical keys would not have been an easy feat for any young teenage performer. Ultimately the best thing about Repo!’s ensemble cast is watching their obvious enjoyment and passion for the material reflect a sense of amusement and circus in each song, resulting in immediate audience participation.
THE LOOK OF FEAR: As already noted above, the boundless production value of the movie is evident in every frame of its malevolent oeuvres. Interestingly, Repo! is fact a rather low-budget production, which makes its visual potency all the more impressive when one realizes just how much the filmmakers have managed to pull off via limited means. Saw sequel regular David Hackl creates a smorgasbord of detailed sets that range from the hellish (eg, the graveyard grounds and back alley drug ways) to the elegant (eg, Nathan’s polished home and the climactic playhouse) but they always remain consistently thematic in their design. Much like any extravagant stage production the film also calls upon for garment attire that must surpass realistic practicality and instead live in a world of the gleefully fantastic. Costume designer Alex Kavanagh’s wardrobe choices are nothing short of stunning, the catwalk leather and lace further complementing the colorful world the characters inhabit.
THE SOUND OF FRIGHT: Unlike other ghoulish musical celebrations such as Cannibal! The Musical or Sweeny Todd where musical numbers emerge abruptly mid-scene, Repo! is in fact an opera; the distinction being that every word in the film – from the first to the last - is sung in motion. In other words the film is not dominated by choreographed dance numbers but rather stylized movements stimulated by music. Varying from the outrageous to the subdued and everything in between, the movie’s industrial soundtrack is catchy and cool (especially the ‘Zydrate Anatomy’ track) and stands alone as an accomplished musical recording in its own right.
FINAL THOUGHTS: While far from being a horror film in the traditional sense, I felt Repo! had enough grisly menace and morbid curiousity to be included here as a featured review at Samityville. It’s a rare experience when a movie takes you by pleasant surprise and all the more rare for it to have a lasting effect after the fact. Even though it should never be taken too critically, Repo! The Genetic Opera is a highly impressive display of sheer creative energy and uncompromising artistics that, when viewed with a large group of people, becomes more than just a movie .
Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writer: Darren Smith & Terrance Zdunich
Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman, Paris Hilton
Run Time: 98min