Today’s flick is easily the most WTF movie I have watched for WTF Sunday in quite a few months. But is it any good? Well, yes and no.
Too complicated to really work.
The not-too-distant future. There has been an epidemic of organ failures across the world. One company, GeneCo, has risen to the challenge of creating replacement organs, but the repayments are a bitch. If you fall behind, GeneCo sends the Repo Man to reclaim their property. Meanwhile, seventeen-year-old Shilo Wallace is kept locked up in her house by her overbearing father, who is trying to protect her from infection due to her mysterious blood disease that also killed her mother. But what is it that connects Shilo to Rotti Largo, the ailing head of GeneCo?
Organ repossession. Now where have I heard that one before? Oh, that’s right: here. This one came first though, seeing as it’s based on a stage show first performed (as “The Necromerchant’s Debt”) back in the late nineties. It evolved into it’s current form over the years, becoming Repo! in 2006. For those who think it’s just a title, the movie is actually a full-on rock opera; the story is entirely sung, with no spoken dialogue whatsoever. It works as more than a gimmick though. The concept, story and characters are so fantastical that the songs fit the heightened reality. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t very good. I’m writing this twelve hours after watching the movie and try as I might, I can’t hum a single bar from the flick. Not one of the songs has stuck in my head.
The actors are a varied bunch. Anyone who has seen a lot of Buffy knows that Anthony Stewart Head can carry a tune, and he brings a lot to the role of the Repo Man, and (since I’ve never seen him in a singing role before) I was surprised by Paul Sorvino’s rich tenor as Rotti. He’s supposed to be the overarching villain of the piece but Sorvino’s performance actually makes him the most sympathetic character on the screen. Rotti’s kids occupy the more cartoonish end of the scale, as played by Bill Moseley (who, despite his background in various rock bands, seems uncomfortable with the singing and dancing), a fella calling himself Ogre (from the band Skinny Puppy, amongst others) and the great Paris Hilton, whose screentime amounts to little more than a cameo (although her nomination for a Razzy is, in my opinion, undeserved). Former Spy Kid Alexa Vega has a sweetness and naïveté about her as the sheltered Shilo, as well as a very strong singing voice. If she gets decent material in the future, she could have a monster of a career.
The concepts of organ repossession and surgical addiction are interesting and full of potential for a horror/sci-fi work, but this film is stuffed with all sorts of sub-plots that don’t go anywhere, such as the idea of the super-painkiller Zydrate and its black-market alternative harvested from the dead. In more experienced hands, this wealth of story threads could have resulted in a challenging and fully-realised film, but writers Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich seem to be almost shoehorning in these elements just to pad out their original short to get to feature length.
Darren Lynn Bousman has brought over most of his crew from the three Saw films he directed prior to taking on this project (parts 2 to 4, if you weren’t sure) and their experience with body parts is evident. If you’re particularly squeamish you shouldn’t watch this after a big meal. The gore and gruesomeness is countered by the theatrical staging and comic-book aesthetics, which together create a more tolerable context. In any other movie the scene of Tony Head pulling out a dude’s liver then reaching into the chest cavity for a cheap ventriloquism gag might be shocking, but in this milieu it seems perfectly natural.
A movie like this is made for a very specific audience, of which I am not really a part. I admire the filmmakers’ refusal to compromise to the lowest common denominator but I cannot honestly say that I really enjoyed this film nor am I likely to watch it again. If this sort of thing is your bag, then have at it.
Hey, this is probably the only review for Repo! that doesn’t mention The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Oh, shit. Nevermind.