REPO! the Genetic Opera is both a screen musical and a dystopia: two conditions which promised to invite my dissatisfaction. Despite its generic dispositions (and a role with Paris Hilton), however, REPO! is among the funniest and most intelligent films I’ve seen this year.
REPO!‘s dystopia is characterised by an organ-destroying pandemic. “Geneco” and its founder Rotti Largo counter the pandemic by developing a system of transplant financing for the genetically modified organs they harvest from the increasing corpses (with a rather gruesome proviso: “Say that you once bought a heart, or new corneas / But somehow never managed to square away your debts/ [The Repo man] won’t bother to write or to phone you, /He’ll just rip the still beating heart from your chest.”) To tranquilise the fears of their unethical practices, Geneco also popularises “surgery as a fashion statement,” the accompanying painkiller Zydrate, and the “Genetic Opera,” a cross between an evangelist sermon and a bread and circus entertainment.
Writer-composers Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich have subordinated the dystopian environment, however, to the family drama (with all the lost love, betrayal of friendship, revenge, competition over inheritence, and revealed family secrets typical of opera) between Rotti Largo, his Repoman Nathan Wallace, and Nathan’s daughter Shilo. The arrangement allows Smith and Zdunich to imagine how the dystopian problems influence familial relationships without making the environment itself the (tiresome) point of the story.
It helps, too, that REPO! relies on dark comic satire rather than the earnest lyrics of typical musicals, and that Anthony Stewart Head has an excellent voice, and the ability to shift semlessly from devoted father to heart-stealing repoman (the voice change is somewhat terrifying).
It’s disturbing fun.
12 April 2009 ~ St. Catharines