I must preface this review of Repo: The Genetic Opera with an admission; I despise musicals. With the exception of Grease (don't ask me why), I have never been able to sit through one in its entirety, and, for that reason, I avoid plays, most Disney films, and drunken gatherings with people who are fans of either.
While Repo is marketed as an "opera", and comparing operas to musicals would be considered blasphemous by certain parties, the bottom line is that both feature people singing rather than talking, and, to me, well, that's just plain silly. Yet, despite the fact that I didn't care much for the musical aspects of the production, Repo: The Genetic Opera is perhaps one of the most visually impressive horror films I've ever seen.
Based on a Los Angeles stage production, Repo tells the tale of a future where an epidemic of organ failure leads to the formation of GeneCo; a company whose seemingly generous provision of low cost transplants to the masses comes with one caveat - miss a monthly payment, and one can expect a visit from one of GeneCo's murderously efficient "repo men".
In this future, surgery has also emerged as something of a fashion statement, and "addicts" have turned to the drug, Zydrate - a painkiller gathered from the corpses of GeneCo's delinquent clients by Graverobbers who harvest the corporations mass burial sites - to deal with the pain of repeated elective procedures.
One such Graverobber (Terrance Zdunich, who also wrote and starred in the original play) serves as the film's narrator, telling us the tale of the terminally ill Shiloh (Spy Kids alum, Alexa Vega) and her RepoMan father, Nathan's (Anthony Stewart Head), search for a cure for his daughter's "illness". We soon learn that not all is as it seems as the paths of Shiloh, Nathan, and GenoCo founder, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), cross, revealing a history between the two men that opens Shiloh's eyes to the truth about her illness, as well as the death of her mother.
Complicating matters are Largo's scheming children - the surgery-addicted Amber (Paris Hilton), the mercurial Luigi (Bill Mosely), and the salacious Pavi (Nivek Ogre) - who are jockeying for position in their father's company, with the hopes of being the heir to the throne when he steps down.
Mixing rock, industrial, and traditional opera styles, the music of Repo is mostly forgettable stuff, and I can't imagine many walking away from this film eager to seek out the soundtrack. While this may seem damning, especially considering that this is an opera, that's hardly the case, as the real star of this film is director Darren Lynn Bousman's absolutely enchanting visual approach to the material.
The world of Repo is something of a cross between Blade Runner and the Grand Guignol; a blood-soaked, neon-drenched vision that is unlike anything I've seen before. It's truly a testament to both Bousman's vision and the work of his art direction team that this opera somehow still entertains despite not having a single standout song or performance. The cast's vocal contributions range from solid (Zdunich, Head, and Sorvino) to passable (Vega and Hilton) to downright laughable (Moseley), and the lyrics are of the caliber one would find scrawled in a fifteen year old girl's poetry journal. Despite all of this, Repo still manages to tell an original and cohesive story, and emerges as one of the boldest (and strangest) experiments the genre has ever seen.