Movie Review – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

I love horror. My wife loves musicals. Why not mix the two?

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) is a horror Goth-rock opera based on the 2002 musical of the same name, which was written and composed by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the film depicts a dystopian future where organ failure is epidemic and society is saved by a megacorporation called GeneCo. However, the corporation’s intentions are not altruistic – for those who cannot maintain their payments hitmen known as Repo Men hunt them down and repossess their organs. Amidst this nightmare world are grave robbers who steal an addictive painkiller from corpses to sell on the black market. Add to this some coming-of-age teenage drama, blood feuds, and a Repo Man with a tortured conscience and you’ll have a decent idea of what this film is about.

The film bombed at the box office and received mostly negative critical reviews, but over the years it has gained a niche cult following in the vain of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). There’s a lot to like about this film: the splatter punk gore, the Goth visuals – particularly Blind Meg, the interesting premise, and, in my opinion, Anthony Stewart Head’s performance. Even Paris Hilton, who then was at the height of her unfathomable celebrity, puts in a decent showing. There is enough to keep my interest most of the time, and only one song I actively dislike (“Seventeen”).

That being said, the film runs too long and the convoluted story, especially when it comes to the central character of Shiloh (Alexa Vega), feels stretched too thin. However, the movie’s biggest failing is that for a musical of fifty-plus songs there are very few melodies or lyrics that are any good. Most of the music is simply mediocre and when they have something good going it’s over too soon, transitioning to a new, less interesting piece. Also, the ending involving Head’s character is rather anti-climactic, especially for a splatter punk movie. They build up an ultra-violent confrontation and end it with a whimper.

I can understand why audiences are divided on this one, with one half loving it and the other half loathing it. I’m in the middle. Ultimately, it’s a forgettable film. Nevertheless, it makes me curious to see what else is out there for horror musicals, as the combination is an intriguing one. Bousman and Zdunich collaborated twice more for 2012’s The Devil’s Carnival and its sequel Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival (2015), and those are films that, based on Repo!, at least have me curious.

Grade: D+

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