by Heather Massey
Regarding Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008), I’m going to strive for an informative, insightful approach in my post about this uniquely flavored and indelible film. But first,
Repo! The Genetic Opera is a wild, eclectic mix of biopunk and rock opera. That’s right, a biopunk rock opera! Allow me to fill you in on its humble beginnings.
Beginning in 1996, Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich collaborated on a story called “The Necromerchant’s Debt.” It was inspired by true events, namely, a bankrupt friend of Smith’s who was losing his possessions through foreclosure. The eventual play, about a future where body parts are repossessed, debuted in Los Angeles.
Spurred on by the play’s success, the creators leveraged “The Necromerchant’s Debt” into a film. Repo! The Genetic Opera features songs composed by Smith and Zdunich, who also wrote the screenplay. Saw II director Darren Lynn Bousman helmed the project. Lionsgate (home of the Saw franchise) released the film in 2008. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the studio apparently did little to promote it.
What, no mainstream love for biopunk? For shame! I’ll help the filmmakers out here and help you add to your future Halloween film fests.
Short synopsis: In the near future, a world-wide epidemic of organ failure threatens humanity. Biotech company GeneCo swooped in to monetize the organ vacuum. Need your organ replaced? Call GeneCo! The company makes its profit through its organ transplant services. To ease the pain of such procedures, GeneCo created Zydrate, an addictive substance harvested from the brains of corpses. The catch is that if you can’t pay up, they’ll sic the sadistic Repo Man on you to repossess your organ(s). Not your average walk in the park, that’s for sure!
The story centers on the plight of Shilo Wallace (Alex Vega), a 17-year-old young woman who suffers from a rare blood disease. Her father, Nathan Wallace—played by Anthony Head, Buffy’s Giles—keeps her practically a prisoner in his attempt to keep her safe—not only from GeneCo, but from his own secret identity.
Feast your eyes on the theatrical trailer:
That’s just a taste of the psychedelic eye-popping adventure that awaits you. However, before you shell out your hard-earned money, there are a few things you should know going in.
Repo! The Genetic Opera has a number of flaws. Only a handful of the record-breaking 64 musical numbers stand out—not a good percentage considering what a significant part the songs play in the film. You’ll be hard-pressed to hum any of the tunes after seeing it.
Plus, the pacing drags and the story is repetitive in places. For example, occasionally a scene of exposition is followed by a musical number that essentially conveys the same information. Part of this could be attributed to the low budget and reusing the same sets, but some more judicious editing could have helped in this area. The plot isn’t as coherent as it could (and should) be.
Still, pulling off such apparently disparate elements such as biopunk, near future SF, rock opera, an ensemble cast, and the dizzying array of neo-industrial goth costume designs and doing it successfully would be challenging for anyone. This film somehow became more than the sum of its parts. Despite the flaws, I was riveted.
Repo! is hardly the new Rocky Horror Picture Show, or even Shock Treatment for that matter, but it tries really, really hard. The filmmakers strove to create something fresh and inventive as opposed to the same old, same old mediocre meh. And in a world replete with vanilla romcoms and toothless horror films, that’s saying something.
An interesting, but flawed creative experiment is still…well, interesting.
One of the film’s highlights—and a worthy reason alone for seeing Repo! The Genetic Opera—involves Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), GeneCo’s pop-singer icon. Her scene with Shilo during the “Chase the Morning” sequence best captures the film’s otherworldly maniacal mashup spirit. I’ve watched many films in my time, from mainstream to niche to 100% obscure, and I’ve never seen anything quite like that scene. It hints at a fantastical (and fantastic!) cybernetic/biogenetic invention that in and of itself would make a great basis for a story.
So take a chance. Notch your SF/F viewing belt with this imperfect, but risk-taking film.
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express.
She’s also an author: Her latest sci-fi romance is Queenie’s Brigade (Red Sage Publishing). To learn more about her work, visit www.heathermassey.com.