DVD Review: Repo! The Genetic Opera

I have one word for Repo! The Genetic Opera: Insane.

Wait, I also have one more: Unwatchable.

Darren Lynn Bousman, the man responsible for directing Saw II, III and IV, directs this perverse musical (based on the stage play by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich), with about as much flair and energy as a mechanical wind-up doll whose key is starting to stop. What should be an absolutely unhinged descent into the wickedly macabre is instead a surreal slide into idiocy and turgid ickiness. This Rocky Horror Picture Show wannabe is as much fun as getting stuck in a torrential downpour without an umbrella and having a passing car muddily splash you for good measure.

The funny part, though, is that if you only listen to the musical numbers without actually watching the film itself this odd gothic whirligig can be slightly enthralling. By and large, the cast Bousman has enlisted can really sing (save, unsurprisingly, Paris Hilton), Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," singing his heart out like no tomorrow), Sarah Brightman (the Broadway legend, she helped make The Phantom of the Opera a household name), Alexa Vega (a long way from Spy Kids) and Ogre (he's the lead singer of Skinny Puppy, my little brother says they're awesome) all belting out their tunes with a perverse bravado that's almost wonderful.

The story is set in a dystopian future where a worldwide epidemic of organ failure has devastated the globe. A company, GENCO, becomes the only one capable of providing transplants for those in need. The problem is, their repayment plans are killer, and if you miss a single installment they'll send out the repo man to bloodily cut out what they feel is theirs.

It's completely absurd and over the top, that's a given, but the songs have such urgency and brazen forcefulness I imagine that it probably worked rather well stripped down and confined to the theatrical stage. But here it is a massively designed groaner, the whole thing a mishmash of Blade Runner, Metropolis and a really disgusting S&M club no one but the lowest dregs of humanity would ever admit to stumbling into.

Worse, it's also freakishly slow and chaotically over-directed. Bousman edits as if he feels his audience has the attention span of a gnat, never staying focused upon any of the characters long enough for the words they're soulfully singing to sink in, alleviating any chance of resonance. Watching it is like being repeatedly punched in the face while being sweetly serenaded at the same time, as you end up not caring a thing about the latter because the former has you doubled in uncontrollable pain.

The DVD offers up two featurettes of which only one, "From Stage to Screen," has any real interest as it lets Smith and Zdunich talk about the different influences that inspired them to create this sordid tale of misery, brutality, woe and energetic guitar riffs in the first place. There are also two commentary tracks, the first with the director and some of the actors, the second also with Bousman this time joined by the playwrights and music producer Joseph Bishra.

I admit to not listening to either of these. I tried to slog my way through the first one, but after about five minutes I just decided I had better things to do like pound nails through my fingers and pull the hair out of my head one follicle at a time. It just wasn't worth it, and unless you fall far more in love with this picture than I did I can't imagine anyone feeling any different.

As far as the final word is concerned, I say listen to the soundtrack and leave the watching of the movie itself alone. Repo! The Genetic Opera is am ocular disaster, and as far as I'm concerned this one can go straight to the discount bin in which it belongs.

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  • Sampson

    I am really sorry but I totally disagree. I think the movie was fantastic. It was a now a day version of Rocky Horror for this generation. The songs are amazing, and the film itself was refreshing from the recycled garbage that get put out in big theater releases. Sure its not for everybody but for most people I would say its a renter not a buyer. Give it a chance people, if anything you get to see Paris Hiltons face fall off so there ya go lol

  • JM

    I disagree as well. Sampson is right: I found this movie fantastic. What's more, I brought my sisters along to see it, and they liked it too. In fact, my second-oldest sister liked it enough that she wants to go see it one last time in theaters, even though the DVD comes out this week. And we'll be doing just that (for me, it'll be my third time).

    About Paris Hilton: trust me, she's perfect for the role. She plays a spoiled heiress with way too much money and an addiction to a futuristic painkiller drug called zydrate. And there isn't a single moment in the film where she has blond hair or blue eyes (she's also addicted to plastic surgery, and her face does indeed fall off at one point, which is priceless).

    And now that I've hopefully put you at ease about Paris, let me proceed to say that the rest of the film is utter ballsy genius. Sarah Brightman will likely be the favorite of many (as she is for me), but Alexa Vega and Anthony Stewart Head also impress as a father-daughter pair.

    Most importantly, though, this movie will entertain you. Give the film a chance. By the ten minute mark you're wrapped up in it, and by the time it ends, you'll be surprised at just how attached you got to the entire thing. The pace is quick, yet Darren Lynn Bousman cuts back on all the crazy editing that trademarks the Saw series. He has matured as a filmmaker (keep in mind he's only 29 years old right now), and while he still has room for improvement, I expect him to get even better as his career progresses.

    Oh, and if you need to be intellectually stimulated as well as entertained, my oldest sister is a grad student in the English department, which is the epitome of academia, and she found this film quite intellectually stimulating in its own way. As she said, for science fiction to really work, the premise needs to be one that's far enough removed from our own time so that it doesn't feel like the present, yet relatable enough so that we feel like it might actually happen. And Repo does that. It's about addiction to plastic surgery and organ transplants, and about people falling into debt over it and getting their body part repossessed. See, the addiction is very real today, which gives us that connection, yet the idea of going so far as to repossess organs puts it clearly in the future.

    Really, this film is just a great film. By this Thursday I'll have seen in thrice... in theaters alone... for that matter, in two different theaters. And it's just as good, if not better, the second time around.

    Also read the review at bloody-disgusting.com. There you can see a properly positive response to this movie. Sorry, Sara Michelle Fetters. I just don't agree with your review.

  • Michelle Heitman

    Another disagreement here. I finally saw the movie last night, probably for the only time I'm going to get to see it in a theater in St. Louis. And it was phenomenal. Starting at the top, Paul Sorvino can sing? Who'd-a-thought? But he can, and he does. Having seen "Once More With Feeling" (the Buffy musical episode) I already knew Anthony Steward Head could sing. And...of course....Sara Brightman....who must have had a *wonderful* time wallowing in gore, after the rarefied air of being a diva! Alexa Vega? The Spy Kids Girl? Are you kidding? But she was absolutely wonderful. Delicate and helpless and "take care of me" one moment, and then into "poor me, poor me," and then to 17-year old defiance, all without any apparent difficulty.

    As for Ms. Hilton...Okay...I'm NOT a fan of Paris Hilton. But, if I'm to be perfectly honest,....she was....oh, DAMN IT....she was good. She *dripped* petulance and "spoiled brat". Both, of course, are life conditions for her, rather than acting...but...nonetheless. And her breathy, "kitten growl" voice when she's singing about/to the "Grave Robber" was dead on. Combination of "I *despise* you...I need what you have." And it WAS fun to see her "loose face."

    All I can say is, don't take the reviewers word for it. For that matter, don't take MY word for it. See the movie. You decide. I can, however, pretty much guarantee you, we have NOT heard the last of this movie. It's well on it's way to being this generations Rocky Horror....and good for them.

  • http://schofizzymoviereview.blogspot.com Schofizzy

    As the 3 commenters before me, I completely disagree with this review! I saw Repo! 3 times in the theaters and am attending the 3 road tour again this friday in LA. I bought the dvd yesterday and can't wait to enjoy it at home. This movie is amazing, not just the film but also the music. I own the soundtrack and listen to it endlessly. The performances are dynamite and even Paris Hilton isn't too bad with her studio voice. Vega is quite impressive for someone prior only seeing her act in kiddie flicks. She carries the film and Anthony Head is breathtaking as Repo Man.

    I do agree this film is for certain people and is definately a niche film, but in no way is it agonizing or hair pulling.

  • Riki T.

    Anyone who uses the word 'ickiness' in a review for a movie cannot be trusted to have a valid opinion. Repo! the genetic opera is a fantastic film. Anyone who is not biased towards watching new things should make the effort to go to the store and pick this movie up!

  • Larry Scheinman

    Here is the perspective from the 10 year Rocky Horror cast veteran (gratefully retired)

    If you are a mainstream movie goer - Stay Away
    If you are thinking this will be Saw - The Musical - you will be disappointed.

    This is the truest evolution of the Rock Opera Genre I have ever seen. It *is* a midnight movie in it's conception. It is designed to be shocking at time, over the top at other, and provoking the back of your mind at times to say "Can this really happen?" Go into this show with the feeling of seeing "The Wall" or "Tommy". It's designed for sensory overload.

    Best movie ever? not by a long shot. Most original movie I've seen in the last ten years? Quite possibly. It is designed for the niche audiences who are the hardcore rock opera midnight movie fans. This has not bee watered down for the mainstream the way Hollywood butchered "Hitchhikers guide" or Broadway euthanized "Spamalot" This movie is not for everyone. It is for the people it is for.... the Fandom crowd. We know who we are, even if we don;'t always admit it. Take it with a grain of salt.

  • JM

    @Larry Scheinman:

    Great post, Larry Scheinman. I like the way that's put.

  • Obeyance

    Yep. Another disagreement x8 (my friends and I). We all disagree with this review. As the cover says, "AN INSTANT CULT CLASSIC". This movie is honestly well rounded. The only people i see not enjoying this movie are the ones that dont like anything what so ever out of the box. Most my my friends (inculding myself) like B rated movie and cult classics. We watch them on a regular basis. THIS IS NOT A B RATED MOVIE, what so ever! The story meshes together very smoothly. The singing is phanominal. The Acting is extremely good, and the best part about it. There are no cheesy parts unless you count the "im 17 and im all grown up now" part which isnt all that bad. I had a few problems with it like.... where did the crowd of people come from or the puppets or the .. band for that matter. That bit was a bit over the top as larry was saying about some parts of the movie, so i guess i could understand that. The song from the soundtrack Chase the morning, or in the movie where mag sings it, is quite possibly the most beautiful song i have heard in a while. I love music and wow.. that song waters my eyes and makes my skin crawl.

    Im not reviewing. Just making statements. My suggestions about this movie are... Go and watch at the theater if you can or buy the DvD and watch it at home with the sound way up.

  • Jemma

    I liked the movie for the most part. I love Anthony Stewart Head and he has an incredible voice. I liked the graverobber, he was cool. And I don't know why people say Paris can't sing. I'm not a fan of her, but even I can agree she has an okay voice. I agree that her character was a lot like her "the heiress", so in that respect it was perfect for her. There were a couple of things I didn't like, though I can't elaborate because I don't want to give it away for anyone who hasn't yet seen the film. However, all in all it was very good. My brother even liked it and he doesn't like musicals.

  • http://myconfinedspace.com TrikYodz

    Congradulations! You know how to use adverbs an annoying ammount of times and all the while you still write a horrible review while youre at it. The music is very innovative/catchy/mindblowing the acting (I LOVE ANTHONY STEWARD HEAD) is great and even though it has paris hilton, she does whats needed for the part, and the cinemotography it very well done. the casting, to add, was very good. sarah brightman was well put, and as was Ogre. and graverobber is an instant fan favorite.
    sarah, i dont think ill be able to trust any more reviews from you, ever. Good job, you just acheived the complete opposite of what you were origionally trying for.
    and if you erase this, it will show just how conceded and how deep in denial you really are with the idea that you are infact not a good critic.

  • Jeremy L.

    I disagree as well. After watching ten minutes at a friends house, I went to another friends house the next day and watched it in it's entirety. I bought the dvd the following day. I was impressed by the music. The sets and backdrops were awesome. Overall I thought the story was entertaining. Granted the scene with the brain was absurd, but Hell, mark it up! I wanted to be entertained and I was.
    After reading all of Sara's reviews, most of which read like b*#^ch fests. Anything of a darker setting is bashed but give her something light and fluffy and she's all over it. Also in regards to your review for Stop-Loss. That movie was terrible and Stop-loss portrayed a fictional account that by no means actually takes place that way. Your never notified the day of your retirement that you've been stop-lossed.

  • http://www.youtube.com/zakin paul purdy

    i love this movie it is grate i like rocky horror but that is more of my parents generation this i honestly believe if the best cult movie i have seen in a long time. as a stage actor i think it is grate for both stage and film. i have seen this movie well over 30 times. the casting could not be better the music score is all over so their is going to be at lest one song for just about everybody. i will say this movie well if may not be the right movie for everybody i do belive it should been seen at lest once by ever one if you don't like it i feel sorry for you and you lack of taste. but if you alrady have it in your mind in under five mins that your not going to like this movie you should be shoot give it a chance it rains true for any movie song or show if you go in thinking your not ganna like it you will probly be right but if you go in thinking i will watch and make a judgment after the credits then you are a true man/woman

  • Keith

    Holy mother of god.

    I guess I will be the only one to agree with this review.

    This film came highly recommended to me by a friend of mine, who I now will never trust again. I found nothing in this terrible movie worth watching at all. The story is painfully unoriginal and is executed even more terribly. The horrible art direction makes the whole feel of the film a laughable mish mash of popular goth/emo culture that just begs "like me". I can't decide which is worse, the story, the acting, or the mind bogglingly bad music. I feel like the "tunes" were just looped pieces ripped from a bad Nine Inch Nails song. The tiresome raunchy guitar riffs and horrible pacing, combined with a total lack of musical continuity make it sound like a garage band of 15 year old mall goths trying to figure out their first power-cord-only song. As for the lyrics, the whole time I was watching this torture I was wondering if they were just given the script of a totally non-musical film and just told to sing along to the crap that was trying to be pawned as music. The complete lack of any sort of overture or repeating piece of music just cemented the feeling of on-the-fly, make-it-up-as-you-go song/lyric writing.

    The overall feeling of the film was laughable, due in no small part to the reoccurring appearance of a heavily be-makeup-ed grave robber type character, whose duty it was to extract a drug from the nasal cavities of the recent dead, which apparently was totally clean and without any need for refinement (which is about par for the course as far as believability is concerned).

    In all, this movie may have had a chance as some sort of respectable piece of film art if it had been put into the hands of someone who knew anything about how to direct film or write music or lyrics. If either aspect had been bearable, I wouldn't have wanted to stab myself after watching this crap to alleviate the pain of this terrible movie, but, alas, that want the case.

  • Kate

    At first I was dissapointed with repo, but mostly because my friends went on about how great Graverobber was and when it actually watched it, it felt like he only got five minutes of screen time. I feel that this story is like Pirates of The Carribean. A movie with a story line that isn't too bad in itself, and definetly owes part of its sucess to its most popular character (for Pirates it was Jack, and Repo it is unquestionable Graverobber). But as dissapointed as I was at first, Repo was a movie that grew on me and I agree that the casting could not have been better. I heard that at first the directer was reluctant to hire Paris, but did so on the condition that she couldn't just be herself (ie, even though she played a spoiled heiress addicted to plactic surgery, she wasn't allowed to have a small dog or use words like "that's hot.") I feel even Paris was good casting in that she was appropriete for the character.

    Overall, at first Repo didn't impress me, but I grew to like it for itself.

  • TrikYodz

    alright! thankyou kate! you disagreed with how people liked the movie and you justified your reasons in a logical fashion and your ideas made sense. good job! you did something the origional $#!+ pile of a "critic" couldnt. that is make sense.