Once in a generation, a movie emerges as the shining voice of the majority, denoting the new norm. And then after that comes the cult classic that screams expletives at society in an edgy new way that unifies the minorities and rejects that norm. And man, have we gotten a few of those.
Whether it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, They Live or even Office Space and Clerks have laid there path in cinema history. But what about my generation’s cult classics? Where is my “fuck-you” to mainstream Britney-Spears-royal-wedding-Gucci norm?
This week on Manic Movie Magic, and part two of my special double feature, we’ll take a look at just that with Repo! The Genetic Opera.
Let’s face it, if all my generation had to show for itself The Room and Troll 2, all the other generations would laugh at it. Lucky, Repo! Is loud, proud, and is actually substantive in a way! It’s the triple threat of a cult classic, mixing modern day views on technology, plastic surgery, goth culture, and classical opera all into one big, musical gore-fest of a feature.
The film focuses on young Shiloh Wallace, a seventeen year old locked away and sheltered due to an incurable genetic disease she got from her mother…who is dead. Yearning to be free, Shiloh has found little holes and hideaways to get a taste of the outside world, but the one time she steps out of her little bubble, she gets caught up with the infamous Grave Robber, who is pilfering graves in order to steal Zydrate, a luminous liquid and incredibly addicting pain killer, from the corpses.
Thankfully for Shiloh, she is unaware of the boogeyman of this world – the Repo Man. See, the story begins long before her birth, the world fell into chaos as mass-organ failure became the order of the day. Geneco, owned by the Largo family, grew from the rubble and brought the cure and helped replace these organs with synthetically made ones.
However, they didn’t do this out of the kindness of their heart, and as soon as people fell into debt, the Repo Man was born. He finds those who are late on their payments, and rip the organs out of the person…while they are still alive. The Repo Man, however, is Shiloh’s father Nathan, a once brilliant doctor who was forced to take on the position by Rotti Largo after he accidently kills his wife, Marni, by giving her experimental medicine. What he doesn’t know is that Rotti poisoned the medicine in order to get revenge on the two of them – Marni was once Rotti’s fiancée but left him for Nathan, and left him heartbroken and alone. Rotti’s children are Amber Sweet, a wannabe song-bird with a powerful addiction to surgery, the sadistic and angry Luigi, and the vain, somewhat creepy Pavi – all of them superficial and stupid, certainly not capable of taking care of their own affairs, let alone running a multi-billion dollar business.
So, right before the show even starts, we’ve got an evil corporation, a corrupt family at the top of it all, a sick young girl with a dead mother and a murdering father, all living in a world of death, drugs, and gothic imagery. If we’re taking in terms of opera, this is definitely one complex tragedy.
Shiloh gets discovered by Rotti after her encounter with the Grave Robber, and he instantly recognizes her as Marti’s daughter. Deciding that if she can prove herself loyal to Rotti, and not her father, that she will inherit everything, Rotti pulls Shiloh out of her home and revealing all her terrible family secrets. In the process, Shiloh deals with the issue of her own mortality, genetics, fate and the ultimate question that everyone faces, dystopia or not: Would you change who you are, if you could?
Let’s talk about the music, first off, since this is a musical. The tracks range from soft-rock ballads, ripping metal, pulse-bounding techno, urban rap and yes, even operatic laments. And just like in a real opera, the music takes up about 85% of the film, using song to convey emotions, atmosphere and even dialogue, something which isn’t easy. However, the writers rose to the challenge, and for the most part the compositions flow into one another easily and logically. It’s a story that would actually be lacking without the musical interludes, and really fits into the grandeur and spectacle of the opera…
…which is all blown away with the visuals. The costume, scenery, the fake blood and guts oozing everywhere, even the very weather itself screams Goth. And it’s amazing. You would think an opera with latex, chains, and chokers would be weird as all Hell but it strangely fits the motif of an unstable society falling apart after the violent, gory death in opera form. I mean, even Paris Hilton, queen of the plastic-shiny-world of the 21st century somehow manages to be fierce and intimidating in her all black ensemble and man slaves….I feel I should be ashamed of having written that sentence.
The acting is pretty good. The GraveRobber steals the show with his weird charm, and Nathan Wallace’s bipolarity comes off as both sympathetic and menacing. Alexa Vega as Shiloh was well cast, and I’m surprised at how well she embodied hopelessness and personal identity. The rest, including Paris Hilton, are all strong actors and actress in their own rights, and hold their own in the complex movements of parts in the grand scheme of the story. Sometimes they can be over the top and disturbing, but that’s mostly to emphasize the point. Also Sarah Brightman is in this….take that for what you will.
What’s even better than the plot itself is the world the film creates. This future Earth has taken plastic surgery to an extreme and disturbing level. Sure, organ transplants start happening cause of the mass failure, but that no longer becomes a problem, to people start getting designer parts instead. Genetically perfect eyes, livers, hearts all swapped in for no reason other than to boast about it to others – cause it’s not like you’re going to rip your chest open to show someone you brand new heart…I hope.
And then there’s a whole subculture of drug addicts as well as surgery addicts. But instead of crushing pharmacy drugs to make cocaine, grave robbers/drug dealers desecrate graves and tombs, sucking the luminous liquid gold out of their shriveled decaying nostrils with a gun. And we are led to believe that as such Grave Robber is one of the good guys.
A lot of critics don’t like this film, saying it’s intentionally gross and is going for keep shock appeal, and even that it lacks wit and vision in the big explosion of guts, and song. And the thing is that most cult classics get panned for their weird content, or performances, but that’s the fun of it – it’s really weird. And at least Repo has some sort of a message, and a pretty good plot overall, which is a lot more than I could say for The Room. Cult classics aren’t always the most that are the best made, but they are the movies which inspire a loving following.
I think Repo! is worth the watch if only to see a really well-thought, well written musical. Is it for everyone? No. Is it perfect? Nope. Is it a big “fuck you” to the world that demands tiny waists and perfect teeth? HELL YES.