Nothing makes you feel more classy and sophisticated than watching an opera. There is just something about the word alone that makes you want to dawn your finest threads, put on a top hat, a monacle, and shove your nose so far in the air you could practically collect rain water in your nostrils. A story told completely through song that is the definition of class!… Even if that film is under the direction of the guy behind three of the four films from the Saw series in Darren Lynn Bousman and the brain child of career weird guy Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith. Repo: The Genetic Opera is a gothic teenager’s wet dream wrapped up in one gritty musically astonishing bow.
Repo! The Genetic Opera is an acquired taste to say the least and one that a lot of people just will not understand. It has its own fan base and its own audience. I wasn’t surprised that this film received a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes and is generally disliked by critics mainly because this feels like a film that a lot more of the pretentious crowd does stick their nose in the air and say ‘Pfft, the guy from Saw is attempting to make a gothic opera? Why doesn’t he stick with gore porn and leave the real art to the professionals? And it has Paris Hilton in it too? INSTANT HATE!” And in truth I think a lot of people went into this with so much hate in their heart that it blinded them to what is actually a very intelligent, very well made, and the best retelling of opera in the modern age.
The story is set in the dystopian future where a plague of ‘Organ Failure’ crippled the world until a company known as GeneCo lead by visionary Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) arrived and began to grow organs. After creating a monopoly GeneCo was able to pass a Repossession Act where GeneCo has the ability to reclaim organs of those who cannot pay. The story then revolves around an old love triangle between Rotti, one of his Repo Men Nathan Wallace (Anthony Stewart Head), and Nathan’s wife and Rotti’s former love interest who was killed by Rotti and made it look like an accident by Nathan. All the while Nathan and Rotti’s children are caught up in the mix with Rotti’s children wishing to inherit GeneCo after his father’s death and Nathan’s daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega) wishing to step outside and explore the world though she has a degenerative illness. Plus the whole story also revolves around Marni’s friend Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) and some of the story is told in comic book form and JESUS!
As you can see there is plenty to talk about. So let’s not waste anymore time.
This Film is a Great Representation of an Opera
This film does an excellent job with the source material. The story itself of old unrequited love, the grandness of children fighting for the kings empire while he finds his heir apparent in the eyes of the man he despises own daughter. The daughter the central protagonist really wanting very little but is thrust into this grand ordeal when all she really wants his freedom. This is an opera. Not only that it is down right Shakespearean in many regards. It is a story of greed, lust, former love, desire, and hope. To merely write this away as some bombastic and loud attempt at recreating an opera is an insult because I can see in several different ways how this film could have gone dreadfully bad and yet they took a very smart approach. Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich did their research when creating the screenplay and music for this film and even have call backs to operatic scores in the film’s music such as Chromaggia that is sung by Blind Mag.
I do admit if this film was created under the direction of more ‘well known’ directors instead of Bousman then I’m willing to bet this film would receive Oscar nominations for music, set design, and screenplay. Instead it is relegated to the realm of gothic obscurity and really by no fault of Bousman who puts for an amazing effort just because it was not done by someone who normally makes exploitation level of violence horror films.
The Music is Phenomenal and Builds an Entire World Around It
This music… This music is excellent! Whenever I first saw this film one of the first things I did was buy the soundtrack and I listened to it throughout most of the summer. You really do not need to watch the film to understand this story just buy the soundtrack. Like an opera it tells you everything that you need to know and it sets the scene of a dreary dystopian future who almost seems to revel in it with a sadistic gleem in its eye. The actual tone itself conveys all the emotions of lust, tragedy, want, desire, and all points in between then added with Paul Sorvino’s operatic voice, Sarah Brightman’s enchanting voice, and fantastic performances from the rest of the casts just adds a whole other level to this film.
Alexa Vega has an almost child like high-pitched innocence and I do also really like the fact that the three Largo siblings… Well are not fantastic singers. Granted Pavi Largo (Ogre) has a thick accent he is putting on and kind of becomes gimmicky but Hilton seems very autotuned in her big number and other ones she does sound like a spoiled brat and Bill Mosley who plays Luigi Largo sounds like he is screeching his lines. But in a way I would argue that this is intentional. Each character’s voice seems to fit the attitude of their characters. Sorvino’s character is a big, robust, mogul, and looking to gain revenge. Head’s character does a fantastic Jekyll/Hyde rendition of singing, and I already discussed Vega’s performance of a sweet, innocent, and naive child.
Mosley, Ogre, and Hilton’s characters are nasty terrible people. One his a psychopath, the other is a misogynistic ladies man/rapist, and Hilton is a slutty brat obsessed with perfecting her image. These characters are terrible characters with really no redeemable value to them and they are meant to be. So their voices match the character they are portraying.
So not only do I praise the film for its music I suppose this can also go hand in hand with casting as well. These characters fit the role and their singing voice portrays the kind of person that they are.
It Took an Exploitative Violent Concept and Made it Thought Provoking and Enjoyable
It is a rarity that you see a film like this that takes such a violent and gory plot as a person who harvests organs from people who cannot pay their debts and turns it into a thought-provoking film. I do like that there is violence in this film. There is a lot of violence in this film but it is not the central focus. In less capable hands this film would have become gore porn at its finest exploiting people’s desire to see gruesome and disgusting deaths (and in a way it does satisfy that desire). But its first and foremost priority is to tell the story at hand between Rotti and Nathan and the various conflicts with their offspring. The violence and the dark gritty world around it compliments the plot and character development in a blending of style and substance that gives the film its own special identity.
Piss Poor Marketing from Lionsgate
This film might have done better than it did if Lionsgate would have actually given a shit to promote their own damn film. Lionsgate tossed Bousman, Zdunich, and Smith scraps of promotion to work with leaving them to create a Road Tour of the show to not only promote the film but had to pay for the promotion out-of-pocket.
Hell I didn’t even know that Repo! The Genetic Opera was a thing until I saw it hit shelves when I was working at FYE and also a quick snippit of a preview on a Saw film I was watching.
Lionsgate really dropped the ball on this production and I almost feel that the company was more ashamed of it than anything wishing to fall into obscurity. For what reasons I cannot say, but because of this the film really suffered for it.
This Film is Acquired Taste
This film is not for everyone. Which is one of the reasons why its critical reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are at 32% and user ratings is a 72%. This film has its audience and has its fans who will praise it just as I have. However if you are not a fan of the gothic type of medium then it is something that will not resonate with you. I would even argue the more pretentious opera fans would shove their noses in the air and scoff at the film for attempting to create a modern opera.
But in a way the film does have to be accountable for this. It can be admired for knowing what it is and creating a film especially for a nitche audience but at the same time I feel that if some elements such as the violence were dropped from the film and a more ‘well known’ director as at the helm it might not be as poorly received as it is. But after its creation the world will never know what could have been.
This film truly is a gem and deserves a lot of credit for what it did. It took a risk and tackled a subject that not a whole lot of people were clammering for and pulled it out of the realms of obscurity to create a very intelligent musical film. The music is phenomenal, the acting is decent for the budget that they had to work with, and the story is phenomenal. It is an acquired taste but I suggest that everyone pick it up and watch it so you can decide for yourself.
Final Score: 4/5
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