MARCH 4, 2008
NOTE – As this is a test screening, the following review may not 100% reflect the final product. Furthermore, as a lazy man who is often broke, I can’t guarantee that I’ll see the film during its theatrical release and/or update the review to include any changes. - UPDATE! - there were a few minor changes, all for the better.)
I first became intrigued by Darren Bousman’s Repo: The Genetic Opera a year or so ago, when he mentioned Shock Treatment as a sort of influence. While I’m not a die hard fan of the Rocky Horror “series”, I do quite enjoy both films, and particularly liked how utterly batshit Shock was (I still don’t have a goddamn clue what is going on during large chunks of the film), and how it managed to “outweird” the original film. Well, Repo makes both of them look sane. And I mean that in the goodliest way possible.
The movie is based on a play (which Bousman directed a version of a few years ago, before he entered the world of Jigsaw), but since I haven’t seen it I don’t know how close the film follows it. There is no real “main plot”, but instead a series of interconnecting stories about a group of folks with ties to a futuristic organ donor/replacement company called Geneco. The film’s central character is Shiloh, played by Alexa Vega, aka the chick from Spy Kids (she’s like 20 now, so it’s OK to think she’s hot, right? Hope so.). She is suffering from some blood disorder and kept largely confined to her bedroom by her dad, played by Anthony Head (Giles!). Unknown to her, he works as a Repo Man for Geneco; killing and “taking back” organs from patients who failed to keep up with their payments. Geneco is run by Paul Sorvino, who is dying, and his kids (Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Ogre from the band Skinny Puppy) are fighting one another over who gets to run the company once he passes. Sorvino also holds a grudge against Head, and there’s also an opera singer (who is also Shiloh’s godmother) and a grave robber who is over-medicating the surgery obsessed Hilton. While some plots are justifiably given more screen-time than others, it’s to Bousman’s credit (as well as the screenwriters, Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith, who also appear in the film) that the film weaves so many different story threads while never once really pausing to let the audience take a breath, yet maintains coherency and a pace that builds and builds at a steady rate.
Also, this isn’t Rocky Horror or Nightmare Before Christmas, where the best musical numbers come in the first half and then the film sort of treads water for a while – here the best numbers come near the end. In fact, the one concern I had with the film was that it took 15 minutes to get to the first song that would make for enjoyable “stand-alone” listening (many of the “songs” are just a verse explaining story details). The opening of the film is a graphic novel style prologue explaining what has happened to the world in the future and how Geneco came to be – I’d rather they had a big number with these plot elements explained in the lyric. But the way the film just builds and builds up more energy as it unfolds is pretty astonishing, so in a way the “slow” feel of the first few scenes makes total sense – think of it as a roller coaster with a 10 foot climb rewarded by a 100 foot drop.
The cast is about as random as one could get (Paris Hilton and Bill Moseley as brother and sister? Giles playing a murderous boogeyman?), but there isn’t a single weak link in the cast. In fact, I must admit that Hilton is QUITE good in her role, both acting and singing (all of the primary characters sing their own songs). I usually can’t stand her in anything, but she won me over here. Moseley also has some great moments as the most violent character in the film, and it’s nice to see Head finally play the “Ripper” he never got a chance to be on Buffy. However, the godmother character, played by Sarah Brightman, doesn’t get to work with the other characters as much, so her scenes have a slight disconnect, and she is sort of MIA (other than TV screens) for the first half of the film – I would have liked to have her given something earlier on that would make her importance to the second half of the film have a bit more resonance.
The movie’s also just damn hilarious. Moseley singing “I’ll shoot you in the face!” to a guy offering him decaf is possibly the best moment in movie musical history. There’s also a rocking number called (I think) “I’m 17!” by Vega, who rocks around her room while two of her stuffed animals headbang along and Joan Jett shows up out of nowhere to provide the guitar riffs – I was laughing my ass off the entire time.
As for the violence/gore, it’s pretty over the top, but also sparsely displayed throughout the film. I would say it’s about as violent as Sweeney Todd (but also about 20 min shorter), and it doesn’t stick out as much as it did in Todd, since the over the top slashing and “repossessing” is just as nutty as everything else in the film.
I’m sure that Lionsgate will market the film as “Saw meets Rocky Horror” or something to that effect, but that would be selling it short. While it’s certainly an easy way to describe it, the real hook for me was just the sheer originality and insanity of it all. You know how Sweeney Todd was almost all songs, but would occasionally “stop” and just have dialogue? No such thing here. There were a few songs that I really dug and wanted to applaud after, as is sort of customary for musical films, but the problem was: I couldn’t. My applause would be interrupting the next musical segment. I just hope people give the movie a chance and appreciate, if nothing else, the sheer originality on display. Anyone reading this site knows how many horror movies I endure, so when I see one that never ONCE reminds me of other movies (even the obvious comparisons – Todd, Rocky Horror, etc, only came to mind in generalized thoughts), and is able to totally suck me in and keep me entertained almost nonstop for 90 minutes, I get pretty thankful and happy. Sure, I love my formulaic slashers and action movies about guys taking over some sort of vehicle only to be thwarted by a rogue cop, but I secretly crave for more movies like Repo; where I am almost at a loss as to how I can review it or recommend it to others. It truly does need to be seen to be believed, and I hope you fine folks not only do just that, but enjoy it as well.
What say you?