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Movies  |  Reviews

Repo! The Genetic Opera

November 7, 2008  |  2:00pm
Repo! The Genetic Opera

Release Date: Nov. 7

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Writer: Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich (screenplay and play)

Cinematographer: Joseph White

Starring: Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head, Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, Terrance Zdunich

Studio/Running Time: Lionsgate, 98 mins.

It’s not very difficult for a producer or director to pitch a comedy or drama, a family or science fiction flick. The rules are pretty much already in place and only a small percentage of what’s seen in theaters does much to move beyond these categories—for better or worse, most entertainment is largely the same. Where there are no rules, though, is in the world of cult films. What makes John Waters’ movies cult classics is so different from what makes Eraserhead or Donnie Darko revered by midnight spectators that it’s a mug’s game figuring out what will find its audience. Thinking along these lines, Repo! The Genetic Opera is unique, if only for a film of its budget bracket (approximately $8.5 million), in that it’s a self-conscious attempt to create a cult film.

Repo! posits a future where the world has been taken over by the über-powerful GeneCo corporation whose business is based on cosmetic-organ transplants. When people default on the loans they make for a new heart or face or whatever, GeneCo sends a repo man to recollect the organ in as unnecessarily brutal a manner as possible. The future has also been redecorated as a goth-happy dystopia filled with singing and, well, you get a sense of how over-the-top everything is. It’s as if the Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey school of horror films combined with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Blade Runner to make some sort of sci-fi-gothic-camp-horror-musical.

The film tries so many different things, though, that it’s unable to pull everything off as well as it should. Singing, always of key concern in a musical, is done by a cast of both professionals and amateurs, with easily discernible differences in quality. Combined with a haphazard and unpolished book, this means that few of the songs seem destined to become even underground hits. Darren Lynn Bousman’s (Saw II and III) directing is surprisingly fluid, but the cinematography often mires the world into a sub-par mush of overexposed film trying to create faux-chiaroscuro lighting. Special effects, both in horror scenes and as a result of Repo!’s sci-fi trappings, are surprisingly good, but some of the sets themselves feel cheap.  While these seams may be intentional given the film’s purpose, they still keep all the elements from coming together to form a cohesive whole.

Repo!’s distribution (which is to say, that it actually has any at all) is definitely a good thing, even though it’s received no advertising budget. What it represents is filmmaking for a niche, concerned with the long tail instead of opening night box office revenue. But what is onscreen isn’t as shocking or different as it would like to be; for all its mish-mash of genres and ideas, it’s mostly just a confusing musical. It’s impossible to predict if 10 years from now there’ll still be an audience in love with Repo!, but as it stands now, the film seems destined to be forgotten.

Watch the trailer for Repo! The Genetic Opera:

 

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