Halloween is coming up fast, folks: we get to dress up as monsters, chase people around and have a laugh; but what if we lived in a society where the monsters dressed up as people? Where the people chasing you would tear your body apart without a second thought?
Imagine a post-apocalyptic society: a world torn & broken by a mysterious epidemic that stole the lives of millions in one of the most painful ways imaginable, total organ failure. Out of the ashes of the horrific tragedy, a multi-billion biotech company emerges as the saviour of mankind. ‘GeneCo’ offer ‘organ financing’ – you can have a fully functional organ of your choice, for a monthly fee. They also developed a new, more effective painkiller – Zydrate – to help with the pain. Surgery becomes a fashion statement, and it seems as if God herself has solved the problem… until Congress legalises organ repossession for those who can’t keep up with the repayments. This gives rise to the most terrifying of creatures: Repomen – people whose job it is to hunt down those who are behind in their repayments.
And so we enter the bleak world that is the setting for ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’. Based on a play by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, it follows the story of Shiloh Wallace, a young woman hidden away by her father after supposedly inheriting her deceased mother’s rare blood disease, and the revelation of her family’s intricate past with corporate monster Rottissimo “Rotti” Largo. Rotti has his own problems, having to deal with three greedy, damaged children (Luigi, Pavi and Amber Sweet) all vying to find out who will the CEO of GeneCo when he dies.
The premise is delightfully chilling, if a little close to home. The idea that by missing a few payments one could lose everything is a horrible idea that some have already had to face; with one missed payment one could lose their life. It’s unimaginable. It’s worth noting that the original play came about when the writer’s friend was going bankrupt and facing foreclosure. It is a harsh world to live in, bearing in mind that it is set in the 21st century, and the storyline has more twists and turns than an old country road, but managing to stay riveting throughout.
As a rock opera, it has an unusual vibe to it: in a world with musicals abound it isn’t something that I had come across before, but it has a certain charm. There are some stellar musical performances in the movie. Alexa Vega, of Spy Kids fame, is wonderfully haunting as Shiloh, the somewhat heroine of the piece, and Sarah Brightman as the tragic Blind Mag is enchanting as always. Paul Sorvino, as Rotti Largo, has a voice that reverberates with authority and quakes in your chest. Paris Hilton as Amber Sweet, though her voice leaves a lot to be desired, actually works wonders. She is obviously aware that she is basically playing a parody of her public persona: an alleged doped-up, spoilt heiress with more money than sense, and so much plastic surgery that her face barely remains attached. Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is utterly convincing as Nathan Wallace, the doctor stuck between the normal life he desperately wants to return to and his forced atonement for mistakes pinned on him by others. My favourite character has to be Graverobber, one of the original writers Terrence Zdunich; he makes his living stealing Zydrate from the skulls of freshly buried corpses, supplying the city’s drug dens with their latest narcotic fix, including Amber Sweet herself. As the narrator of the story, his dulcet tones help set the atmosphere for the entire experience.
The songs themselves tend to be more catchy than soul stirring, and some toe the line of becoming almost repetitive. The most heartfelt song has to be ‘Legal Assassin’, where Nathan laments the loss of his wife Marni and the life he once lead, saying that his daughter is all he has left in this life now. You can hear the pain in his voice as he sings of his loss, and the lie his life has become. The catchy ‘Zydrate Anatomy’ is my personal favourite, and that’s the one that will bounce around your head long after the movie is over. Sung by Graverobber, Amber Sweet and Shiloh, alongside a rousing chorus of Zydrate addicts, it teaches us about the pivotal drug, what it’s for and how it’s used.
The special effects are somewhat lacklustre, but as the movie is directed by the mind behind SAW, Darren Lynn Bousman, this was to be expected. Infuriating as it is to an anatomist, or anyone who knows what the human body looks like on the inside, the exaggerated viscera actually works for the story. The horror isn’t supposed to come from the gore – it’s supposed to come from the notion of living in a world where even your body isn’t your own; everyone and everything is for sale, and society’s morals are governed by the person with the deepest pockets.
Overall ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’ is everything that it set out to be: a gory parody of a world torn apart by an obsession with image, set to a rocking soundtrack. Although it is very much an acquired taste, the story is captivating, and the music is well done. Destined for cult royalty? I think so.