We're living in an era of renewed interest in overblown movie musicals, so it stands to reason that Mamma Mia! and High School Musical—the Xanadu and Grease of their generation, sort of—should have a Rocky Horror Picture Show-style counterpart. Musicals are hokey by nature, after all; attracting viewers to their old-fashioned song-and-dance often requires striking a tone somewhere between high camp and self-satire.
In its bid for that kind of midnight-movie infamy, Repo! The Genetic Opera piles on the glam-rock spectacle and coal-black comedy at such a brusque pace that it often seems in danger of rattling off the rails entirely. The film unfolds in a dystopic, surgery-obsessed future where organs are custom-engineered by the omniscient corporation GeneCo for a steep price. Those who default on payments can expect a visit from the repo men—and unlike in Alex Cox's movie, their job doesn't involve punk rock and aliens so much as violently ripped-open chest cavities. Orchestrating this medical mayhem is Machiavellian CEO Paul Sorvino and his backstabbing children (played by horror staple Bill Moseley, Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre, and an appropriately dead-eyed Paris Hilton), but Sorvino's mysterious relationship with his employee (Anthony Stewart Head) and Head's sickly daughter (Alexa Vega) drives the central plot. Meanwhile, composer Terrance Zdunich skulks around as the quasi-narrator "Graverobber," Broadway's Sarah Brightman steals the show as a blind opera singer, and characters break into pummeling, industrialized ballads with names like "Zydrate Anatomy." Oh, and Joan Jett pops up for a guitar solo, just because.
It's remarkable that none of this proves exhausting,
considering that Repo! rarely pauses to catch its breath. Drawing from a bombastic visual
palette that incorporates elements of Blade Runner and Sweeney Todd, director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw
II-IV) plays up the
gore and even uses comic-book-style interludes as a framing device; Repo! seems aimed squarely at a
hyper-caffeinated audience raised on videogames and Red Bull. But he also
wrings some remarkable performances from his cast, particularly the
effortlessly magnetic Brightman, and Head, who finally puts those Bowie-esque
pipes he displayed on Buffy The Vampire Slayer to good use. They rescue Repo! when it's on the verge of tipping
from "outlandish" into "ridiculous." Besides, any film featuring a song called "We
Started This Opera Shit" and the sight of Paris Hilton's face falling off deserves the
cult audience it so desperately craves.
For an interview with Repo! co-star–and Skinny Puppy frontman–Nivek Ogre about making the film, see Decider Austin.