Repo! the Genetic Opera: a Modern and Dark Cult Classic

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By: Emilia Azure <3

Repo! The Genetic Opera is an indie film from Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and it flaunts its heritage proudly; the movie blends in elements from the Saw series, opera singing and storytelling, and stage musicals like Rocky Horror Picture Show. It will stick in your head for ages after you finish watching it.

The original poster art for Repo! the Genetic Opera. There's a red-costumed repo man with blazing eyes in the foreground and the actor's names in the background.

This is Repo's style. Gaze upon it!

Actors from all around gathered to take part in Repo! — Sarah Brightman, a renowned opera singer; Alexa Vega, from the Spy Kids series; Anthony Steward Head, better known as Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and even Paris Hilton, who gives a surprisingly good performance. The actors range from competent to excellent singers.

But now, to the songs. Repo! is an operatic musical, after all — the songs have to be good if the movie’s going to get off the ground. The music in its soundtrack is poly-layered —- there are melodies upon melodies complementing the main themes and some are only audible if you have a good set of speakers and good concentration. Its variety of synthesized instruments add to the complexity of the music and set the atmosphere beautifully. There are just as many, if not more, instrumental songs to set the mood than plot-driving, dialogue-supplanting songs.

The opera’s set layout is striking. Every single stage is lit so that it reflects one of four moods: that of surgical sterility and ruthlessness; that of the noxious miasma of death; that of a brooding, heavy atmosphere; or that of a campy and unbelievable carnival. Repo! thrives on this sort of stark, unsettling contrast. For example: a song about drug use and addiction is also simultaneously one about hypersexualization, one’s role in society, and a critique of jealousy and consumerism.

But Repo! has its own set of (context-dependent) faults. The movie is gory. It comes from the producers of Saw, after all. A lot of blood flies around the stage and the movie plays around with it; in one memorable scene, one of the main characters uses a cadaver they just killed as a makeshift ventriloquist’s doll; in another, a main character’s face quite literally falls off their skull, which is again played for laughs. Squeamish viewers should avoid the film unless they plan to overcome said squeamishness with a trial by fire.

I do not agree, but there are many people out there who feel that the movie’s absurdity goes too far. It serves as a candy-coated varnish on top of an admittedly fragile plot. This is compounded by one tragic aspect of its heritage: Repo! the Genetic Opera is a small indie film borne out of a side-project and if you poke it too hard in the right spots, you start to see threads fray. A lot of content had to be cut out for the movie because there just wasn’t enough money to film it and so the backstory’s thin in some places. A lot of what’s known of Repo!’s canon is patched together from interviews with the creators and actors, which is annoying at best to us death to the author types.

But Repo! the Genetic Opera is still one of the most original films, operas, musicals, works that I’ve experienced in ages. It defies description: as a best approximation, I’d describe it as speculative dystopian biopunk and even that isn’t good enough. It’s true: Repo! is a very polarizing work — Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes, both speak for themselves — and you’re either going to love it or hate it; whichever one it ends up being in the end, I hope that it’ll be worth the price of admission to the genetic opera~

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