Thoughts on ‘Repo! A Genetic Opera’

A musical about organ repossession and general murdering shenanigans. What more could you POSSIBLY ask for?

Go watch the trailer first, if you haven’t seen the film.

It should give you an idea of what you’re about to read (if the video doesn’t appear, reload the page):

What Are We Watching?

Title: Repo! The Genetic Opera

Written By: Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich

Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring: Paul Sorvino, Anthony Head and Alexa Vega

Synopsis [IMDB]: A worldwide epidemic encourages a biotech company to launch an organ-financing program similar in nature to a standard car loan. The repossession clause is a killer, however.


This post may divulge information integral to the characters and plot of ‘Repo! a Genetic Opera’. While attempts have been made to clearly mark out spoilers, if you haven’t seen this film — and don’t want to risk any key elements being revealed  — I’d suggest you stop reading. Like… now.

I actually heard about Repo! The Genetic Opera long before I ever got around to seeing it.  I’m a fan of Skinny Puppy, see, something I may have mentioned at some point, and the lead singer (Ogre) had a role in this flick. After I spotted it on one of my random Google stalking sessions, I considered checking it out, right up to the point where I realised Paris Hilton was in it, at which point I scoffed at the very idea (having recently watched House of Wax, I’m fickle and quick to judge like that) and let it slip from my memory like shit off a shovel.

I didn’t realise at the time that it was a musical (and if you thought the name might have given me an inkling to its content, you obviously don’t know much about me and my uncanny ability to miss the blatantly obvious. It’s a gift.), and I suspect that if I had, I would’ve checked it out long ago.

In any case, I ran into it again when Paw Dugan of TGWTG reviewed praised it to high heaven, and – after watching the entire review and ruining any sense of surprise at the movie itself – I went and bought myself a copy. If you have no intention of ever seeing this film in your lifetime, I’d recommend watching Paw’s Review to gain a nice overview of the whole thing. Just don’t do what I did and watch the review before seeing the film. It will ruin it.

So the story goes like this:

It’s some time in the near future. Organ failure spread as an epidemic that wiped out huge chunks of the human race.  Through the bleakness, salvation arises in the form of GeneCo, a genetics company offering the perfect solution: organ transplants. Surgery quickly becomes a fashion statement as well as a life-saver. For those who can’t afford it, GeneCo offer financing, which on the surface might sound all well and good. The only problem is, if people fall behind on repayments, GeneCo are within their rights to send out employed assassins – known as ‘Repo Men’ – to retrieve their property.

The players are as follows:

In one corner, we have Shilo (Alexa Vega), a seventeen-year-old girl, house-bound at her father’s insistence due to a blood disease inherited from her mother.

In the adjacent corner we have the father himself, Nathan (Anthony Head), who — guilty for accidentally killing his wife, Marni, and because of his skills as a surgeon — has become one of GeneCo’s Repo Men.  He tries to shelter Shilo from the dark world outside, but in doing so is overprotective and in turn puts distance between him and his daughter.

Over the other side, we have Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), the owner of GeneCo, who is terminally ill and has three abhorrent children (Luigi, Ravi and Amber Sweet) as his only heirs.

Wanting to leave it to none of them, Rotti doesn’t have much time left to consider an alternative.

Still in GeneCo’s circle, we have Blind Mag, the ‘voice of GeneCo’, a woman granted sight by the company, which she has since paid for with her freedom. Mag has decided to leave the company, and the night of ‘The Genetic Opera’ will be her final performance.

Finally, standing far away from the action, we have the Graverobber, who acts as narrator and guide in this world.

Through the course of the film, and many fab-u-lous songs, we follow Shilo on her quest for freedom, as the stories collide and intertwine, divulging Nathan’s past, Shilo’s mysterious genetic disorder, and the future of GeneCo itself.

The entire thing plays out like an extravagant, musical soap opera.  Which makes sense, because it is an opera! Get it?!

The film didn’t do too well at the box office, which is largely attributed to Lionsgate essentially giving the film no promotional support, leaving it to the films creators to put the shoulder to the wheel and do it themselves.

I can see why it flopped at general release. Not that it isn’t good, it is, but a ‘Musical Horror’ — or ‘Industrial Opera’ however you want to categorise it — is a very small niche, and it would be unlikely to assume that it would pull in anything other than the freaks like me. I, of course, think it’s brilliant and have since shoved it into the faces of everyone I come into contact with, including you people reading this. I’m telling you to go buy it. Get it from Amazon UK or Amazon US, depending on where you’re from.

Do it. Now.

I’ll wait.

The Repo Man might come for you if you don’t buy the film. Just sayin’

There are three key elements that pushed this film from good to amazing for me: the first is the music, which is unpredictable and volatile in the best possible sense, second is is Anthony Head’s bipolar performance as Nathan / Repo Man, and third is Terrance Zdunich as the Graverobber, who I’ll get to in a minute.

Naturally, no film is perfect, and Repo! has its share of problems.

A few of the songs feel drastically out of place and take away from the atmosphere built up around the rest of the film (‘Seventeen’ and ‘Mark It Up’ are the ones that spring to mind), and pacing felt off during my first watch. By the second time around, once I understood the general gist of the story better, it improved.

In fact, the first time I watched it, more than eliciting any negative emotion at all, the best I could manage was ‘confused’. With my knowledge of opera limited to visits to the theatre to watch ‘Phantom’ and ‘Rocky Horror’ when I wasn’t really old enough to understand them, the whole thing came quite as a shock.

But, like a puss-filled abscess, it grew on me the more times I watched it.

A lot of love obviously went into the film at every level, which brings me back to Zdunich, since he has his fingers in almost every aspect (Writer, Producer, Composer, of course the part of the Graverobber himself, plus Terrance is the one behind the charmingly gruesome comic strips that grace various parts of the film).

The Graverobber is a Charming Scoundrel and a total Scene-Stealer

The Graverobber is a classic scene-stealer, because we never learn about his origins or even his motivation, other than ‘I sell drugs but I’m not overly impressed about doing it’; he’s just there, being amazing and charismatic and dangerous and enticing, all at the same time. Other than the business of drug pushing, his character serves no purpose other than exposition machine and a guide for little Shilo.  It would be so easy to turn him into some vague stereotype, but since Zdunich has so much involvement in the rest of the story’s creation, no doubt he has worked it into a not only believable but also very likable character.

Add to the mix the fact that Zdunich has a voice to die for, and you have a perfect mix of a secondary character that becomes a star in his own right.

You may recall on my 30 Days of Writing, I talked about Scout in a similar sense, which – looking at the similarities between the characters – is pretty damn creepy. There must just be something about shady, drug-dealing characters brandishing great big smiles that sells it to people.

The only thing that depresses me now is that something as unique as Repo! is left to fall by the wayside, meanwhile regurgitated vomit like Transformers pisses out a third installment and grosses millions in its opening weekend alone.

In any case, the film is wonderfully stylised and has carved itself a neat little place in my heart and mind, to the point where now it’s now firmly lodged somewhere in my top ten films, and you should have a gander at it yourselves: Amazon UK or Amazon US.