| The Red Right Hand
REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA
Darren Lynn Bousman
Too often films are released with the promise of being the 'next cult hit' - therein lies a slight contradiction, in that cult films usually aren't hits and succeed largely thanks to the fan-base it creates. Repo! is the perfect example of a cult film: under-budgeted, under-praised, under-exposed yet curiously appreciated by a loyal following. Part of my adoration for this release is the faith the director places in the material and the unwitting desire to please the alternative audiences - I must confess, I do have a soft-spot for artists who are so passionate about a project that they will risk-all to convince studios to undertake it.
The material in question is a musical/stage production by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, set sixty-odd years in the future. An epidemic of organ failures crippled the globe and one company emerged with an answer; GeneCo. The contractual premise is relatively straight-forward, for a price GeneCo will grant you new organs and parts but if you fail to make a payment the company has the right to repossess the precious property from your living body - these debt collectors are called Repo Men. The concept of the plot was one that sold me from the very start, it's a brilliant premise in that it seems almost credible in a macabre sort-of-way. The backbone of the story is a long-running conflict between GeneCo's head, Rotti Largo [Sorvino] and one of the skilled Repo Men, Nathan Wallace [Head] over the death of Wallace's wife and Rotti's ex-lover, Marni and the child that she bore, Shilo [Vega]. Shilo, now seventeen, acts as any rebellious teenager would and sneaks out of her domestic prison to explore the decaying world around her and discovers the horrors of surgery-addicted scalpel junkies, grave-robbing drug pedlars and corrupt officials. Running parallel to this is the tension and sibling rivalry between Rotti's offspring and potential GeneCo inheritors, Amber Sweet [Hilton], Pavi Largo [Ogre] and Luigi Largo [Moseley]. The final thread takes the form of a contractually obliged opera singer and the face/voice of GeneCo, Blind Mag [Brightman] and her struggle for freedom.
Now, as much as I enjoyed this film I had a great deal of issues that I needed to address. The first, glaringly obvious point is that this film is certainly not for everyone, in fact, it takes a certain individual to want to see a musical about a dude who carves people up and immerse themselves in this fantastical world. Secondly, we have to confront the pacing. I understand this may have been courtesy of budgetary constraints or studio interference but the whole thing felt like it needed maybe an extra fifteen or twenty minutes to really gel from scene-to-scene; furthermore, the ending needed to be a little cleaner and less open-ended. And finally there's the structure; conforming to both musical and operatic proceedings, events unfold in acts and segments, interspersed by comic-driven back stories - an entertaining monetary work-around but one that many audiences may have issues with. On the plus side, the music is really enjoyable and well-written/performed, the acting is very good from all involved and rarely slips and the visual style is both interesting and captivating.
As stated, the over-stylised visual effects, grisly gore and the very fact that the characters sing their way from scene-to-scene will ensure Repo! will slide in an out of cinemas without much attention. I intend to heavily promote this release on my podcast but I wouldn't be surprised if we Europeans will have to make do with a straight-to-DVD release. But like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo! is a cinematic subversion that appeals directly to its target audience without a great deal of care for the mainstream; a true sign, if anything, of a completely misunderstood but wholly worthwhile artistic endeavour.
US - 7th November 2008
UK - 9th March 2009
The Scene To Look Out For:
Musicals never seem to be divided or highlighted into scenes but numbers instead. The three-or-four that come to mind are Infected detailing Shilo's blood disease and her frustrations with being a prisoner in her own house; Zydrate Anatomy, which may very well be the film's greatest selling point; one of the big finale pieces, We Started This Op'ra Shit and the archetypal operatic number, Chromaggia which shows off both the musical and vocal talent of all involved.
First off, I had issues with Hilton and Moseley. Paris Hilton pisses me off, she always has. I've been slapped on the wrist by Warner Brothers (back when I was a young, na´ve sprat who failed to realise I can say/do as I bloody well please) for my horrendously damning review of House Of Wax, which was pretty much a three thousand word essay of why I hate Paris Hilton and for filming The Hottie & The Nottie I will never forgive her. However, in this role she manages to come across as almost credible as both an actress and a singer. I still hate her but if I had no idea who she was, I would have to confess an ounce of talent. Then there's Bill Moseley. His character, Luigi Largo, is an uncontrollable, figure of purely violent rage; which is all well and good but every now-and-then his vocal talents don't match his enthusiastic swearing. Having seen him in The Devil's Rejects I'm more than aware of how scary this guy can be but it all seems to dissolve away when he opens his mouth; which is a shame. On the other hand, Vega, Head and Sorvino are all exceptional, Brightman sings her heart out as usual and the introduction of Zdunich is a welcome one.
"'cause we all end up in a tiny pine box, a mighty small drop in a mighty dark plot. And the mighty fine print hastens the trip to our epilogue"
In A Few Words:
"This is one of those rare reviews where I have very little to praise and my best summation is: it may not be great but it really works"