Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Darren Lynn Bousman

Anthony Stewart Head - Nathan Wallace/Repo Man
Alexa Vega - Shilo Wallace
Paul Sorvino - Rotti Largo
Sarah Brightman - Blind Mag
Paris Hilton - Amber Sweet
Bill Moseley - Luigi Largo
Ogre - Pavi Largo
Terrance Zdunich - GraveRobber

Genre - Horror/Musical

Running Time - 97 Minutes

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4

I'm not a musical genre person. It's funny I say that because I've seen so many of them due to my mom being such a sucker for these kinds of films. I do enjoy them on some level. In fact, I love WEST SIDE STORY, GREASE, and even DREAMGIRLS. But they don't resonate with me like horror or action films do. I wouldn't say no to watch a musical, but I'm not gonna be overly excited about seeing one.

However, I'm oddly fascinated by horror-musicals for some reason. I think it's because I find it interesting when the two genres mesh together to create something of an experience that must be seen to be believed. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is still one of my favorite films and I watch it at least once a year. THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS remake grabs my attention more than ROCKY HORROR because of how silly it is. Can't forget about the classic THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. I even dig PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE a bit. And last year's SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET was a pleasant surprise, to the point where I quickly bought the DVD upon its release.

And now this year, we have REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman [who directed SAW II, SAW III, and SAW IV]. Dropping SAW V from his resume to work on this very personal project, REPO! grabbed a lot of buzz for casting Paris Hilton in a horror flick a little before she headed to prison last year. Lionsgate seemed to be behind the project, giving it an April release date and showing the film at multiple festivals to rave reviews. But suddenly, Lionsgate stopped promoting the film altogether, moving its release date around as if it wanted to avoid jury duty or something. Sadly, Lionsgate released the film to limited release last weekend [which it did to THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, which also garnered positive reviews]. It's apparent that Lionsgate isn't confident in releasing its films worldwide unless it has SAW in the title. Too bad because REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA is a whole lot better than SAW V could ever be and deserved to be released worldwide for everyone to see. It's not a perfect horror-musical, but it's an experience to behold once you sit down to watching it. Score one for originality.

Based on a short play, REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA deals with multiple plots dealing with some futuristic organ transplant company named GeneCo. The main one involves a young girl named Shilo (Alexa Vega) who suffers from some blood disorder she received from her late mother and is now forced to remain in her bedroom by her father, Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head). What Shilo doesn't know is that Nathan is the head Repo Man for GeneCo, where he must take back organs from patients who have failed to keep up with their payments by murdering them gruesomely.

GeneCo is run by Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), who happens to be dying and must deal with his three children (Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Ogre) who happen to always argue about who will take over GeneCo once Rotti is dead. Rotti has a grudge with Nathan due to Nathan stealing Rotti's love and making her his wife, which led to very unfortunate events out of revenge.

There are also more sub-plots, like a blind opera singer named Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) who happens to be Shilo's godmother and soon becomes a victim of GeneCo's contract policies. Plus we have a narrating GraveRobber (Terrance Zdunich) who sucks a certain type of addicting drug out of corpses and sells them on the black market, especially to Amber Sweet (Hilton).

While no ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW or THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA is still an ambitious, original, and experimental horror-musical that deserved to be promoted more than it was. Darren Lynn Bousman distances himself away from the SAW sequels as much as he could, creating an experience that has to be seen to be understood. I do feel the film is TOO song heavy [there's no non-singing dialogue in the film at all] and there's too much going on for a 90 minute film [should have been a bit longer], but I enjoyed REPO!.

The story plays out like an opera - full of love, deception, and tragedy. Every sub-plot is absolutely interesting and entertaining, as I felt there was no filler at all in this movie. The main plot with Shilo is written and sang wonderfully, as we understand her plight to be free after suffering under quarantine by her overprotective father. And it's not done to make Nathan a villain either, as through his songs and through flashbacks, we learn why he does what he does. Plus we see his dark side through his songs as well, which give us a lot of character development. Shilo's struggle to deal with her sickness and her chance at a cure is what brings all the sub-plots together. From Rotti's revenge against Nathan using Shilo to turn against him, to seeing how dysfunctional the Largo children are individually, to Blind Mag and her connection to all this - everything connects flawlessly and we see these situations from multiple perspectives that actually fit together. That's a hard thing to do on paper because so many stories tend to confuse audiences on what they should be focusing on. But REPO! writers Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich make it work, as you realize that every story fits into the same puzzle and they all come together at the end.

I feel the story is pretty much a commentary on our vanity as a society. The entire character of Amber Sweet is made through her addiction with plastic surgery. It's not like she needs it at all, as she's quite a good-looking woman. But she feels that she needs to change her looks in order to become a successful performer and upstage the much more beautiful and talented Blind Mag. It also runs in the family, as Amber's brother Pavi never reveals his true face, always wearing another person's face as if he wants to be Leatherface. Obviously these two reflect the insecurities of many people who feel the need to keep up with certain looks in order to fit in with the rest of the society, hoping that being accepted by others will make them feel better instead of accepting themselves for who they are. Hollywood seems to have a lot of these people, if constant reports of plastic surgery on certain celebrities show us every day. The whole idea of GeneCo is like a massive mill to fill the needs of those who feel ugly about themselves. And like in real life, it always comes with a price.

I do feel though that the story had too many numbers. Now I understand this is an opera and that's the point. But because of so many songs and no actual dialogue, none of the songs really stand out. I wish there was a showstopping number I could describe, but there really isn't any. They all tend to flow into each other, but not seamlessly all the time. At times, I felt the meshing of these songs was a bit disjointed. One person could be singing a ballad to someone and the other person would be singing a rock song to the other. It was a bit weird and took a bit of adjusting to. At least all the singing was sung extremely well, especially by Brightman, Head, and Sorvino. Plus you learned a lot from the songs. People didn't sing just to sing. They sang to reveal truths about themselves and their situations to move the story along. And since most of the songs sounded like Evanescence on an acid trip, I kind of dug them alot. So it was a mixed bag for me there.

I also felt the comic book transitions in the book to give us a look at the flashbacks to certain characters and how it connects to the present situation were a mixed bag as well. I loved the comic book art and thought they were visually stunning and quite amusing. But when you have songs already giving us the exact info, it makes these transitions redundant. I don't know if this was used to fill up time or to be visually stylish to be honest.

I liked the gore FX here. Anyone expecting SAW-like gore will be disappointed. It's enough for the story I felt and there were moments that were pretty gruesome. Mainly the gore were during scenes where Nathan, as the Repo Man, would gut his victims in order to take back unpaid organs that belonged to GeneCo. Plus we do get some death scenes towards the end but nothing too drastic.

Darren Lynn Bousman should be applauded for taking a chance outside the SAW franchise to direct REPO!. The film is visually stunning. The gothic colors of the sets and locations are extremely beautiful. The editing was a whole lot better here than in any of the SAW films. The pacing at the beginning of the film was a bit off but it got better as the film rolled, especially during the last [and best] act of REPO!. But overall, I thought the direction was great. I give credit to the production design and cinematographer for helping Bousman reveal his vision. Bousman is very confident at his job and it shows here.

The cast here is pretty fuckin' cool. I never would have guessed I would see all these performers in one film, let alone a horror-musical. Alexa Vega, from the SPY KIDS films, is pretty hot as Shilo. She actually has a good voice and sings a majority of the songs. I thought she carried them well and I liked her here. I think her most memorable number was "Seventeen", a rock rebellious song where she performs with Joan Jett [in a cameo]. Anthony Stewart Head, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, already proved he had the singing chops during the Season Six musical episode. But here he takes it to a whole new level, as his singing shows he has a split personality: one as Nathan and one as The Repo Man. Even his voice changes as he alternates between the two. It's quite impressive and a brilliant turn by Head. I guess he got to play Ripper after all. Paul Sorvino, who already has opera experience, brings it to the table as the villianous Rotti. I liked the performance but I felt that Sorvino could have given maybe a bit more. I didn't think Rotti was bad enough. Sarah Brightman blew me away as Blind Mag. She has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I was swept up by her singing. I honestly could listen to Brightman sing all day. I wish she were in the film more because I don't think she was given enough to do. I liked her that much.

As for the other roles, Paris Hilton actually surprised me as Amber Sweet. She pretty much played a more extreme version of herself, but she actually had a decent singing voice. She won't be winning American Idol or anything, but I actually liked the girlish tone to Hilton's voice. It was kind of cute actually. Plus she looked pretty hot, I gotta say. It pains me to write that but I can't deny she looked good - except when her face was falling off of course. Bill Moseley cracked me up as the angry Luigi. He wasn't a bad singer either but he had some really funny lyrics that made the whole audience laugh. I think this dude is cool period. And Terrence Zdunich was pretty cool as the GraveRobber. I liked his voice alot, as it was sort of deep and commanded your attention. I wish he were in the film more too. I would have liked to learn more about him.


- Rotti's two assassin ladies looked like they stepped out of a Robert Palmer video. I may not be "Addicted To Love" but I did find them "Simply Irresistible"!

- The GraveRobber used a corpse as a battering ram. That's one way to wake up the dead.

- Shilo and Nathan struggled with their father-daughter issues. Now I know what Thanksgiving dinner at the Lohan house is like. Sheesh!

- Luigi vows he will find a hole to fuck in, and if he can't find one, he will make one. Thank you, Luigi. Now my mattress can understand why I did what I did during puberty.

- Don't mess with Anthony Stewart Head when it comes to fighting. He's watched enough Slayers to know how to beat the shit out of you.

- The Genetic Opera involved boobs, lesbianism, and awesome rock music. Now that's worth $300 a ticket. Let's see you top that act, Madonna!

- Amber Sweet's face peeled off during her performance. Actually that wasn't her face. That was just some dried up DNA after a facial she received from a male stagehand backstage. Protein is good for the skin, I hear.

- Blind Mag dug her nails into her eyes to take them out. Man, taking out contacts sure is a lot bloodier in the future. No wonder Sarah Palin sticks to glasses.

is one of the better horror flicks of 2008 due to its ambition and originality. It's obvious Bousman wanted to create a modern cult classic, but that has to be earned. So we'll see when the DVD is released in a few months. I do feel that if you're willing to take a chance on a film like this, please do. It's better than any sequel or remake that we've been fed by Hollywood for the past few years now. REPO! didn't get a chance to thrive at the box office because Hollywood is too chickenshit to market something different. So please give it a chance on DVD. Will it be for everyone? No. But it will have its audience and it deserves an audience. REPO! is an experience that everyone should try at least once. Nice to see someone taking a risk to give horror fans and musical fans something different from the norm. I'd like to think that counts for something.


  1. Fantastic! I have been looking forward to this. Glad it lives up to its promise

  2. You lucky dog!! (or should I say wolf?)

    How did you get to see this?!?
    [I heard that it was only released in 8 theatres!?!]

    I am really looking forward to seeing this one, even moreso now, since I've read this excellent review!!!

  3. Jude, I think you'll enjoy this one. It sucks you'll have to wait for the DVD to see it.

    And Jason, I live a few minutes away from NYC. The only theater that played the film was like 20-25 minutes away from where I lived. So I had a free pass and used it. Consider me lucky indeed. And I hope you like it more than I did when you get to seeing it. It's not for everyone so beware of that.

  4. I have been looking forward to this one, for a quite a while now (over a year in fact)

    You mentioned Phantom of the Paradise, in your review, and I loved that one! :-)

  5. I can't wait to see this one. As I am a genre fan as well as a closet musical nut (I'm not sure anyone else my age has seen By Bye Birdie as many times as me) I really await the DVD release.

  6. i saw this on a good quality pirate DVD and i thought it was superb, 100 times better than "the rocky horror picture show" or "the nightmare before christmas", (2 films which i think have always been ludicrously over-rated anyway), and by the way, mr. wolf, when you write your comparison reveiw of "dawn of the dead" could you give a special mention to "sharon ceccatti" one of the greatest zombies of all time.


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