REPO! The Genetic Opera

by Luke Copping

After several rounds of “road tour” theater screenings Repo! The Genetic Opera was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 20th.  Will Repo! The Genetic Opera prove to be a major cult classic?

movie still
film still

A Venetian style carnival at night, adorned in rich golds and blues, is a fine setting for any opera.  But it is the little details that set the scene here: the bags of organs hanging from the vendors’ stalls, a young man wearing a woman’s face, an opera diva with mechanical eyes, and enough human oddities to cast several Tod Browning films.  All this makes you realize that this might not be an opera in the classical sense of the word.

Based on the stage production of the same name by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, Repo! The Genetic Opera is a new fusion of rock opera and apocalyptic futurism. This production is a shocking, horror-tinged look at what might happen should our culture’s obsession with cosmetic surgery and artificial perfection continue to their extremes.  To quickly sum up the plot – a large biotech firm has perfected techniques for organ harvesting and transplanting and has made these advances available to the public, for a price.  Financing is available but should you fail to pay your debt then GeneTech will send one of their cadre of lethal surgeon/assassins after you to reclaim the company’s property.

Anothony Stewart Head plays Nathan, one of the Repo Men that GeneTech employs.  Nathan is a character possessed with an interesting juxtaposition of natures.  In one regard, Nathan is a doting father and doctor, haunted by the sins of his past and trying to raise his daughter in a less- than-friendly world, but he is also a monstrous and skilled assassin who enjoys his work with an almost ecstatic glee.  This role is a real showcase of Head’s talents.  He turns in one of the strongest performances in the film, both musically and theatrically, though those familiar with his previous role on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, or his career on stage, know that he is no stranger to musical theater.  Hopefully this role will prove that he is more capable of carrying an American film production as a lead rather than being relegated to supporting roles.

Other standout performances in the film are delivered by Sarah Brightman and Terrance Zdunich. Zdunich plays his role of Graverobber (one he has played in several incarnations of Repo! productions) with such cleverness and charisma that he is absolutely essential to the film as both a narrator and for his performances throughout the production. Of all the characters present in the film, his is perhaps the most memorable.

The set production and the costuming are aspects of the film that are true accomplishments. Lavish colors mix with the dull tones of stone, metal, and night to create the sort of world where things might have once been luxurious and plush, but the velvet drapes have rotted away to show the wall underneath. It seems that decay is at the heart of this film, both in plot and in aesthetics. The costuming mixes a certain operatic sensibility with a mix of futuristic haute couture and modern day fetish wear. Lace and ruffles are mixed liberally with leather and latex to create an anachronistically wonderful collection of looks.

Overall, the film has the potential to become a true cult classic.  While lacking much of the camp of masterpieces of the genre like Phantom of the Paradise or the Rocky Horror picture show, Repo! just might have what it takes to become the cult musical of choice of the future generations of film fans.  It mixes humor, style, edginess, and some genuinely well written songs like “Zydrate Anatomy” with a solid cast and great art direction.  This film is definitely worth checking out.

Zydrate Anatomy - film still
Zydrate Anatomy - film still

The costuming in the film is notable in its own right.  Rorward thinking and an anachronistic blending of styles has created some great looks for the production.  Especially the costumes for the characters of Shilo and Blind Mag.  In fact I think Shilo’s wardrobe may end up inspiring a slew of imitators.  A mixture of high end vintage looks with forward thinking tailoring and modern materials has created a real fashion syntax for the film.  It’s far the from the silver lammé, or torn leather and rags of most post-apocalyptic visions, it seems as though they have followed the natural evolution of several current and past trends have created realistic and styling interpretations of what their future versions might be like.

Shilo - film still
Shilo - film still

Skinny Puppy’s Ogre also makes an appearance in the film as Pavi Largo, one of the three decadent Largo children, he may be one of the more frightening images in the film.  Adorned in the skin of women’s faces over his own, he comes across as everyone surgical nightmare come true.  Ogre’s character possesses vain and feminine characteristics that make him quite surprising in his role.

Ogre and Anothony Stewart Head - film still
Ogre and Anothony Stewart Head - film still

from the February Issue of Auxiliary Magazine

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