Repo! The Genetic Opera is the answer to High School Musical for sci-fi and horror geeks. For Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed many of the over-the-top Saw movies, Repo!’s morbidity is fairly tolerable: For every instance of gore there’s another of comedy, wrapped up in sing-along punk/cabaret lyric and dance. The opening theme song’s only lyrics are “Things you see in a graveyard” sung in an operatic soprano, which sets the murky backdrop of the film.
Minus the hilarity it’d be a fattening slice of gratuity and post-apocalyptic cliche. Horror needs balance to suit my sensibilities; there is no artistic merit in meaningless gore, especially set as a frame around scantily clad women brandishing surgical scalpels and a character who kills them to wear their faces. Then you have Paris Hilton‘s character, Amber Sweet, a spoiled brat who binges on surgery and painkillers.
Bousman handles it with gothic finesse, perhaps taking cues from George A. Romero (the zombie king) to include subtle comedy while taking care not to overshadow the flaws and struggles of his characters. The collapse of humanity, the subsequent obsession with biological perfection, and the emergence of a super villain with a vendetta effectively draw you in. And if you like the music, the plot won’t let you go.
Sarah Brightman‘s voice could shatter stained glass. Paul Sorvino lends the sedentary gloom and elegance of classical opera. I immediately re-watched it because I had to hear the songs again — “Zydrate Anatomy”, featuring lusty, lackadaisical vocals by Paris Hilton and the monster mash voice of Terrence Zdunich; “Chase the Morning” by the inimitable Sarah Brightman; and “Mark It Up” a tongue-in-cheek duet by Nivek Ogre and Bill Moseley — then I finally broke down and got the soundtrack.
Many compare Repo! to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In terms of concept and definition, it is. Musically it feels more like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, although not quite as manic: challenging characters and subject matter; high moments of frenzy, tense moments of cynicism and melancholy. The songs are orchestrated excellently, all in the same major key, and each blends seamlessly into the next. Repo! succeeds on many levels — an unapologetic, original satire of Hollywood’s divas, starlets, and harlots.