Why 'Repo! The Genetic Opera' Is The Best Musical You've Probably Never Seen
'Repo!' is a 21st century cure
Very rarely do we see the words "horror" and "musical" in the same sentence, but it's not something that has never happened before. After all, we've had hits such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Phantom of the Opera, and Little Shop of Horrors.
Another horror-musical—or more appropriately, a rock opera—that you can watch is Repo! The Genetic Opera.
I know, you probably haven't ever heard of it, have you? Don't worry, you're not the only one. However, you're really missing out on a movie that became somewhat of a cult classic for a reason.
Repo! was the original brainchild of composers Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith, performed as a stage play back in 2002. Director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV) adapted it into a short film back in 2006 and pitched it to studios. After having very little luck, Bousman decided to fund 90 percent of the project himself. The film gained some support from his Saw colleagues, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures, and became a full-length rock opera in 2008.
Even with the support of a lot of the Saw fanbase, Repo! didn't really take off like it could have (or should have), but over the years the horror-musical has found its audience. Whether it's the music, the art direction, the costumes or the story, there is a lot to love with this extremely underrated horror gem. Here's why:
The Art Style Is Like A Comic Book
Right away, you notice that the style for Repo! is quite different than you might expect. Starting with the opening credits, we're introduced to a futuristic world via graphic novel-style storybook art. The color schemes are dark and very similar to Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and The Crow.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman somewhat intentionally did this, too. Other than utilizing Terrance Zdunich's artistic talents, he knew that the film's budget wasn't going to be enough to do everything they would have wanted, telling Filmmaker magazine:
"That’s why we went with the comic book look — we knew that we were not gonna have the money to do things real so we embraced being crazy and weird. We embraced looking cheesy."
This style is used not only to fill in the gaps between scenes, but also to introduce specific characters. Their backstories are also illustrated, so we get a lot of necessary information in a short amount of time. It's an awesome way to speed up the pace of a story without leaving out information that is essential. Not to mention it's super fun.
It's Your Teenage Goth Dream
You can't ignore the brilliance of the costume design and the overall look of this futuristic society. The style comes across as a blend of steampunk, goth and cyberpunk, along with several classic opera hints. The costumes and set designs are elegant and brought to life in a way that definitely attracts your attention.
Looking back on it, you could even say that the costume and hairstyles used in Repo! were basically a goth version of what Capitol residents wore in The Hunger Games. Basically, Bousman knew what he was doing as far as attracting an audience. He had this to say about Repo! back when it was released in 2008:
"The movie appeals to the fringe, it appeals to the goth-y outside-the-box crowd, the gay crowd, the theater crowd. ... This is not a kind of movie that you walk out of the theater and say, 'What did you think?' It’s more, 'What the fuck did I just watch?'"
Basically, if you are still going through your goth phase and looking for another musical to attend (similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show) where everyone is in costume and singing, then you just might find your calling with Repo! The Genetic Opera. Even if your goth phase is long gone, it is a fun way to revisit that style and state of mind.
The Songs Are Super Catchy
Repo! is definitely the musical for you if you're a fan of rock music in general. Zdunich and Smith took notes and influence from groups such as Depeche Mode, Skinny Puppy and others. After all, Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy stars in the movie as Pavi Largo.
Aside from the music being rock-influenced, Repo! follows the overall pace and style of a traditional opera. A majority of the non-singing dialogue is spoken in a recitative way (a.k.a., talking while adopting the rhythms of speech) and the story itself invokes great tragedy and melancholy. There was even talk — back when the film was released — that it had been submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be considered for the 2009 Academy Awards.
If nothing else, the music is fun to jam out to, if you're looking for something industrial to sing along with. If you like what you heard in Repo! The Genetic Opera, you can even go on and check out other rock operas that Terrance Zdunich has composed, such as The Devil's Carnival and American Murder Song.
The Cast Is Awesome
I know what you're going to say when I tell you that Paris Hilton is in this movie, but bear with me for a second. The cast as a whole (including Hilton) is actually quite impressive.
Alongside classical soprano vocalist Sarah Brightman, the film stars actors such as Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Alexa Vega (Spy Kids), Paul Sorvino, Nivek Ogre and Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses). It features cameos from co-composer Darren Smith, longtime Bousman collaborator J. Larose, and rock and roll pioneer, Joan Jett.
As for Paris Hilton, her performance was as shocking as her casting, as it actually wasn't that bad. She stepped out of her box and delivered a performance that was extremely unorthodox, considering the things she was doing in the '00s. (If you're still skeptical about Hilton's involvement, there is another House of Wax moment where you see something terrible happen to her. That's something, right?)
The Story Is Unique And Engaging
We got a non-musical version of the concept in 2010 with Repo Men, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker. However, it is worth remembering that the story for Repo! came nearly a decade before Repo Men, so don't be fooled thinking the musical was a ripoff of an attempted blockbuster!
It's safe to say the concept of a repo man repossessing organs in the wake of an organ failure epidemic is pretty far-fetched, but that doesn't make it any less interesting. Personally, I remember hearing about Repo! around the time Saw IV was released because the films shared a director and studios. Along with the visual aesthetic, I was intrigued by the story because it wasn't really something I had heard or thought of before.
As the story moves along, you're really sucked in. You want to know how things end, how certain characters meet their demise, and you want to keep listening to the music. Altogether, Repo! is an incredibly engaging story and you have fun for every second of it.