Repo the Genetic Opera isn’t the kind of movie you saw playing in multiplexes, even when it first came out. The fact of the matter is that it’s got a sort of cultural weight to it. Even now it’s creeping into the “cult” film audience crowd, as it slowly replaces Rocky Horror as the latest midnight movie madness craze. But what is it about Repo that’s given it such a following?
It’s difficult to say. The film follows a sick young girl, Shilo, and her father as they both struggle to survive and live with themselves in a futuristic world where organs are up for sale, but the consequences for missing a payment are dire. Without getting too heavily into the plot, the film has a surprising amount of material to offer viewers. For the “musical” crowd, there’s the appeal of the music itself. It’s got a certain sing-ability to it, but that shouldn’t detract non-musical fans. Although most of the film is sung (we’re talkin’ a solid 95%) it’s got a nice flow to it. If you’re anything like me, the distracting part of the musical is how everybody randomly bursts into song and knows the choreography, but with Repo, since it’s pretty much all sung, there’s no real break from reality because it’s easy enough to accept that as the reality, given its consistency.
But considering it’s a movie that’s virtually all sung, the music is one of the minor elements of the movie’s appeal. It’s difficult to explain, but one of the most charming parts of Repo is its sense of self. Operas, no matter how diverse, always seem to have a certain feel to them. There’s the grandeur and the way that the story unfolds. If it had to subscribe to one genre, Repo has an operatic tragedy to it. The third act features an impressive climax in which all the connections are revealed in a manner that would make Bizet proud.
Although the film does boast an impressive score and an equally intoxicating sense of operatic tradition, it is not without its faults. Paris Hilton’s character, Amber Sweet, is particularly insufferable. it’s difficult to tell whether it’s Hilton’s performance or the character itself that is so unlikable. Unfortunately, it feels like the main issue is that the movie is entirely unsure of what to do with here. Then again, this limits her scenes so I can’t be too upset with her character’s treatment. There are a few other characters, relatively minor ones, that can make the movie a bit of a chore at times, but they’re supposed to function as obnoxious characters, so it’s easy to reconcile the performance with the character.
In the end, Repo the Genetic Opera offers an unconventional entertainment that’s frequently overlooked. With some breathtaking musical performances and an understanding of the grand opera tradition, Repo stands as an exhilarating reminder of the ability of music to convey sincere emotion. The only times that it is dragged down is by minor characters that almost seem too easy to dislike, but even in those rare instances, Repo‘s charm shines through.