I did a video review two month ago of this movie, but I wasn't able to really say everything I wanted. Consider this a companion article.
In the future, everyone has payment plans out on their organs. When you miss a payment, a Repo Man comes to get them back.
A twisted tale of tragic characters, betrayal, inheritance, and revenge.
Oh, and everyone sings.
Make no mistake, this film is the result of the hard work and dedication of passionate people working against the odds.
As a side note, most films have to fight against great adversity to get made. The Hollywood machine, in the way the general public understands it, is largely a myth. I'll go into more detail in further articles, but suffice it to say that nothing is ever as simple as it seems from the outside.
There are three names that need to be mentioned in relation to REPO!: Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich, and Darren Lynn Bousman. It was these three individuals who created the original theater play... okay, so Bousman didn't come along until the thing was written, but he did direct it's first run. Quite an accomplishment for someone who's biggest accomplishment at the time was getting fired from a film set for writing his own stuff on the job.
Though not a smash hit, the theater show did respectably in it's run. This story probably would've ended there, if not for Bousman's script. You remember that thing he got fired for writing?
Yeah, it got adapted into Saw II.
Subsequently Bousman went on to direct literally half the entries in the most successful horror franchise of the last decade (of this writing he's directed three of the six Saw films: II, III, and IV).
Even with the clout this success brought him, it took Bousman a couple years to convince his bosses that a horror rock-opera was a smart move.
It seems to be taking a little longer to convince the public of the same thing...
HIGH HOPES, LOW RETURNS:The film cost $8.5 MILLION to make. From what I've been able to find, it made back less than 3% of that in it's theatrical release.
It played in eleven theaters.
It's no secret the negative press this film has gotten. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 33%. One reviewer went as far as to compare the experience of watching the film to the suffering of Christ during his crucifixion. Paris Hilton was awarded a Razzie for worst supporting role in the film.
I dug a little deeper.
It seems people were bashing Paris Hilton's performance, and by extension the movie, on the Raspberry Award forums months before the film was even released. I also find it revealing that despite it's official rating of 33% (with 50 reviewers) the user rating at Rotten Tomatoes is 82% (with 400+ reviewers). Heck, three songs from the film were contenders for Oscar consideration (they weren't nominated, but they were in the running to be).
Regardless of what you might have heard, the polls are divided and the jury's still out.
CAST AND PRESENT:
Before I go into anything about the cast, I need to talk about what the film is and what it's trying to be.
REPO! The Genetic Opera is not a musical, as some have suggested. It is a rock opera. The difference? In a musical, there are musical numbers interspersed between dialog scenes. In a rock opera there are no dialog scenes unless they're sung. I'll get back to that.
Now, aside from horror, REPO! has two main influences: Heavy Metal and Opera. The metal element is pretty obvious, with most songs being comparable to Nine Inch Nails and gothic metal bands such as Evanescence. The opera influence is present in some songs too, but is also evident in the story and the structure of the movie. This too, I'll get back to.
Alright, NOW we can get to the cast.
Sarah Brightman is among the most respected names in opera, and REPO! one of only three films she's been in since 1985. She plays Blind Mag, star of a regular opera event put on by GeneCo. On the surface she's on top of the world, but in reality she's property of GeneCo, the proverbial nightingale living in a gilded cage. Brightman's performance is one of the highlights of the film and helps give it legitimacy.
Continuing the opera influence is the casting of Paul Sorvino, who is generally associated with his gangster films of the 1990s. He actually started out training to be an opera singer.
Nivek Ogre, from highly influential metal band Skinny Puppy, makes his film debut with the memorable Pavi Largo. It's a distinctive role and he plays it well.
Finally Paris Hilton. As I say in the video, her performance actually works. It's appropriate for the role. Amber Sweet is a spoiled rich brat who's obsessed with her looks and is addicted to plastic surgery. Honestly, I can't think of a better person to play her than Hilton. Even if you hate her there's a reason to watch; a quick spoiler here, but there is a point in the film where her face peels off.
As for the rest: Alexa Vega does a decent turn as the naive protagonist. Anthony Head brings alive the titular Repo Man and does a good Golum-style man-vs.-the-monster-within dichotomy. And Terrance Zdunich's character is compelling and darkly charasmatic.
And that's all I have to say about that.
The music of REPO! is both the film's strongest and weakest element.
At the best of times, the musical numbers are simply fantastic. Highlights include "Zydrate Anatomy", "Legal Assassin", and "Chase the Morning". Really they need to be seen in context to really get their full effect. The problem I have really is that there isn't breathing room between the music; the truly inspired moments are diminished by the surrounding mediocrity.
See, there were more than 60 songs composed for the film (depending on the source of the information it may be as high as 72). No, seriously, this film has more songs in it than any other film in existence. It literally holds the record.
The problem is that these songs aren't all at the same quality. Most of these are dialog scenes set against music that changes direction constantly to the point where it's distracting. These scenes are the are the weakest of the movie. When I say the film would be stronger as a musical than a rock opera, these scenes are what I mean. A shame too, because if these scenes were to be played straight it would've given the surrounding musical scenes more impact. As they stand, these scenes feel disjointed and really take away from the overall experience.
Keep also in mind that the film uses three vastly different styles of music in the film: Metal, Opera, and Punk Rock. You start seeing the problem, right?
These problem, more than any other, really accounts for what keeps this film from being truly exceptional. It's a film of brilliant moments which don't always hold together as a whole.
STRUCTURE AND COMIC STRIPS:
Anyone who's ever been to a live opera, whether it was 'Oedipus Rex' or 'Chess', will have memories of the booklets you get at the beginning of the show explaining every movement of the plot. It's an accompaniment that assists the audience in following what's going on.
I bring that up because there are occasional clips of animated comic strips which very much remind me of those booklets. These sections are graphically interesting, but honestly I would've been much happier if they were just left out. See, these bits reveal exposition of the back story and characters. This wouldn't be a problem except invariably these sections are followed by a song about the same thing we just learned. Redundant, much?
But on the subject of REPO!'s ties to opera, I have to mention the story itself.
Looked at in it's simplest form, the story of REPO! is every bit an operatic tale. A powerful man on the verge of death and seeking a worthy heir to his thone, a tragic anti-hero desperate to keep his daughter safe from a corrupted world, a young girl coming of age, and a tangled web tying them all together. You could set the story in Victorian times, and it would feel right at home.
This isn't a landmark film. What it is, though, is wildly imaginative, vibrantly stylish, and entertaining. If you look under the surface, you'll find there's even a bit of meditation on the cultural obsession with self improvement. On some levels the film explores the idea that self improvement is a religion and those who deal in it are gods of a new age.
Look, I'm not saying this is the must see movie of the year, but my hope is that you'll make up your own mind about it. In a time where the largest complaint you hear about Hollywood movies is lack of originality, REPO! stands out from the crowd as a genre piece with it's heart in the right place; on the floor, covered in blood, but beating to the tune of it's own drum.
'Til next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critc.