Sunday, November 16, 2008

In the not so distant future, an epidemic of organ failures devastates the planet. Out of the ashes of this tragedy, a savior emerges: GeneCo, a biotech company that offers organ transplants...for a price. Those who miss their payments are scheduled for repossession and hunted by the villainous organ Repo Men.

I had the opportunity to see Repo this past weekend and was blown away. Before one sees this movie, I advise you to not assume it's going to be similar to Moulin Rouge! or Rocky Horror. Or some abstract amalgam of the two. It's nothing like them at all. This modern, futuristic rock opera is unlike anything I have ever seen. The opening shots were drawn comic-book panels that briefly set up the prologue. A side note, all of the art was illustrated by co-writer Terrance Zdunich, who also portrays "GraveRobber". The characters in the film have their own story, yet all are intertwined with the other, and yet not at all complicated, though layered.

The President of GeneCo is Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, Romeo + Juliet), learns that he is dying, while Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids), a 17-year-old girl with a rare blood disease, that she's been told she inherited from her deceased mother, sneaks through underground tunnels to her mother's tomb. Shilo follows a bug out of the mausoleum in an attempt to capture it, and in the process, runs into GraveRobber (Terrance Zdunich), who is busy digging underground. They flee from heavily-armed "GenCops" and enter a massive underground graveyard since grave robbers are to be killed on sight. Shilo is sighted...but saved by one of the mysterious Repo Men.

Shilo wakes up after passing out from blood-pressure problems, to the face of her over-protective father, Nathan Wallace (Anthony Stewart Head, Giles from "Buffy"). He has been keeping her locked in their house for seventeen years due to her disease. Shilo is bitter towards her late mother for giving her this disease and her even more so towards her father. Nathan, upset, gets ready for work...secretly as the head Repo Man for GeneCo. He takes great pride in his work, but knows that he can never reveal it to Shilo in fear of breaking her trust.
President Largo has three ungrateful and spoiled children: Luigi (Bill Moseley, The Devil's Rejects, Carnivale), Pavi (Ogre, vocalist for industrial band Skinny Puppy) and Amber (Paris Hilton). They fight and bicker over who will inherit the company after their father dies. All the while, they're taking inventory at a GenCo storehouse in a fantastical number that is one of my favorite songs in the whole production. Though, unbeknownst to the Largo children, their father has other plans. He sees a possible heir is Shilo, who he invites to see a Genetic Opera that night and introduces her to Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), who thought Shilo died at birth.

Meanwhile Nathan, repossessing a spine, calls Shilo, who is at "Sanitarium Square" being guarded by Rotti's twin henchwenches while he's distracted. GraveRobber arrives and helps Shilo slip away from the twins. Meanwhile, Rotti announces that Blind Mag will be performing her final song as well as that Amber will be the spokesperson for the newly-revealed Zydrate Support Network, a rehab center for those addicted to the potent painkiller Zydrate. Shilo watches GraveRobber explain Zydrate, harvested from the brains of the dead and sold to addicts. Those who are addicted to surgery, like Amber, need Zydrate to ease the pain. Amber arrives and gets a shot of it, explaining in the process that she will be replacing Blind Mag after Mag's eyes, which she got from GeneCo, get repossessed after her final song, which in my opinion is the showstopper of the movie. GenCops arrive and everyone scrambles to escape, except for Amber and her two escorts, who hold her up as she passes out in a drug-induced haze.

Shortly after that, Nathan delivers the repossessed spine to Rotti, and he gives Nathan his next target: Blind Mag, though Nathan refuses. Rotti, Pavi, and Luigi follow Nathan as he works on another victim, trying to guilt him into repossessing Mag's eyes. He still refuses, and leaves once done with the victim. Later, Rotti sends the twins to accompany Blind Mag to Shilo's house, where Blind Mag confesses to Shilo that she is Shilo's godmother, having been good friends with Shilo's mother, Marni, before she died. Mag was sent by Rotti to convince Shilo to come to tonight's Genetic Opera. However, she also warns Shilo about GeneCo. Nathan arrives and starts an argument with Mag before kicking her out of his house. After trying to tell her dad that a Repo Man will take Blind Mag's eyes, Nathan tells her that there's no such thing as the Repo Men and sends her to bed. When she argues, he asks what she, a seventeen year old, could possibly do and without hesitation, Shilo retorts that it's better than being forty. Joan Jett makes a brief cameo as the guitarist in Shilo's musical number, properly entitled, "Seventeen". However, Shilo's dream-like rock number ends abruptly as Nathan slaps Shilo and she runs off.

Back at the Largo Manor, Amber, complains to her father that her latest surgery ruined her face. Rotti explains that he told her not to get so many surgeries. However, he eventually gives in and tells her that he'll take care of it, just like the good father he's always tried to be. After she leaves, Rotti has a monolouge and signs his will, which shows Shilo as his sole beneficiary. Nathan, after realizing that Shilo isn't home, discovers that GenCops have stolen Marni's body from the basement. Everyone gets ready for the Genetic Opera (Nathan puts on his Repo Man gear, Blind Mag walks through the cemetery on the way to the opera house, Amber picks up a last hit of Zydrate before the show, etc.). Meanwhile, GraveRobber express his beliefs that there will be a massacre at the Genetic Opera, and that whoever survives it will rule GeneCo.

The ending is too good to give away. There is tragedy, murder, revenge, and actually a bit of comedy. Darren Lynn Bousman has made a name for himself as a go-to guy for over the top, operatic gore and he doesn't shy away from it here. Repo! is often tremendously bloody with sanguine spilling left and right, often directly on top of naked flesh. He takes what he learned making Saw II--IV and pushes in into overdrive as he uses it to skewer one satirical target after the next. Normally, I am one to shy away from sexualized violence. I find it repulsive and saddening, but here, Bousman has found that perfect mix between sexy and grotesque. Though the bloodletting is vicious, it never spills over into elaborate rape fantasy.

The cast is made up of a bizarre collection of geek favorites, musicians and world famous opera singers is almost weirder than the movie's central concept. Paul Sorvino is exquisite fun as the patriarch who controls the world, but finds himself unable to defeat cancer. Sorvino is fascinating to watch when he is let loose and he has a singing voice to rival any star of stage. Sarah Brightman is also quite good in a small roll that is entirely divorced from her signature turn in "Phantom of the Opera". The rest of the cast is a bit of a mixed bag. Alexa Vega is strong as the daughter of the organ stealer and Anthony Stewart Head outdoes his Buffy singing, easily by a hundred fold. Meanwhile, Bill Mosely is obnoxious and all over the place, playing his seventh version of characters he's played before. The biggest surprise to me was to see Paris Hilton and her actually being watchable as Amber Sweet, even if she is heightened-reality version of herself. But the real standout is Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy. The man steals the show as a deformed lothario who has a nasty habit of killing his lovers. I sense him being a popular costume for comic conventions to come.

Repo: The Genetic Opera combines brutality with comedy and music very effectively. The interactions between the characters as they sing their parts make for great character development and story progression simultaneously. I'm not the type to like weird, cult films but this held my attention. It's definitely worth a viewing, and if you have time to immerse yourself, then it's definitely worth some good applause. I must say, I don't profoundly pitch or push quite so personally for many things, but I do think such a rare and beautiful film should not go unnoticed and unappreciated. The DVD release is scheduled for January 25th 2009, but there is still time to push and plead to your local theater and ask for them to screen it. You won't soon regret it or soon forget this experience of a movie.

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