Repo! The Genetic Opera is the kind of film that will likely be hailed as an instant cult-classic. Which begs the question: What does it mean to be a "cult-classic" nowadays? The answer: another way to sell a film to a pre-packaged audience. Directed by Saw staple Darren Lynn Bousman, the film incessantly winks to audience members throughout its often-laborious 98 minutes, nudging them in the ribs, whispering, "That was funny, wasn’t it?" "We don’t take ourselves too seriously; isn’t that awesome?"
Repo! is a genre-molding horror-rock-opera that revolves around a future when organ failures have wiped out large quantities of the population. Gene Co. rises from the chaos with the solution: to provide expensive organ replacement surgeries, on loan. Eventually, through clever marketing strategies, surgeries become a mark of status, a way to rise to the upper echelons of society. But, when their loans default, the Repo-Man (Anthony Head) comes to brutally maim them and repossess their organs for Gene Co. His daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega), who's unaware that her father is the feared Repo-Man, is our somewhat flat tragic hero, whose imprisonment in her own home, due to her rare blood disease, leads to the unraveling of the fates of many.
The metaphor here is thinly veiled, and rarely comes across as anything more than a sophomoric look at consumerism, without any real depth. Vacillating from a simplistic political discourse (“Industrialization has crippled the globe/ for every market a sub-market grows”) to a slasher flick, the film even dares aspire to be a comedy at points, but it’s tongue-in-cheek attempts at Evil Dead-style horror-comedy fall flatter than Paul Sorvino’s singing. The film is confused as to what it wants to be, and none of the genre conventions it boasts are working with each other.
Although the music is occasionally engaging (make no mistake: this is a rock-opera with little dialogue), the film lingers in a musical purgatory somewhere between nu-metal and pop-punk that's mostly abrasive and distracting. Too often the film devolves from the plot and does little more than string together a series of angsty music videos that slowly drift away from the story until the conclusions of the songs, when the audience must attempt to remember what was happening in the film prior to the Avril Lavigne-esque videos.
Repo! does have a striking olio of comic book visuals, a Matrix-esque CGI metropolis, and expressionistic set-and-costume designs with vivid color saturations. And there are moderately engaging stretches that flow seamlessly, especially when Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) is onscreen, whose operatic background provides much-needed authority. Paul Sorvino does a great job too as the nearly apologetic villain Rotti Largo, despite his obvious lack of musical talent. But any positive attributes are overshadowed by its flaws. Overall, the film is
completely at sea: the beautiful comic book interludes feel misplaced, the horror segments gruesome but not frightening, and its adaptation of a tragic figure into a sci-fi-horror-rock-opera is nothing if not in absolute excess of soap opera drama and teenage angst.