Repo is a film with a troubled history. Starting off as an off Broadway show, director Darren Lynn Bousman, best known to horror film fans for his sequels to “Saw”, had been badgering Lionsgate Films for years in the hope of finally making a film version. When at last Lionsgate gave in, Repo still faced numerous hold backs from the studio. After several changes of release date, the film received a limited release and a tour of select cinemas across the US, and now at last has been released on region 1 dvd, region 2 not being released until March.
Set in a not-so-distant future in which an epidemic of organ failures has crippled the globe. Out of the chaos, a saviour appears; a tyrannical corporation called GeneCo which provides genetically engineered organs, for a price. But, if you miss a payment, GeneCo sends out the Repo Man, who will take back those unpaid organs, whether you want him to or not. Intrigued by the press coverage of the film, I found myself anxiously waiting to be able to see it, snatching at youtube videos and soundtrack releases, which only increased my interest. The cast, including West End musical legend Sarah Brightman, Buffy veteran Anthony Head, Goodfellas star Paul Sorvino, Industrial music god Nivek Ogre, horror favourite Bill Moseley and, in a bizarre choice, tabloid socialite Paris Hilton, is sure to attract a wide range of the fanatical and the curious, while the promise of a horror musical with elements of Rocky Horror and elements of Blade Runner hanging ever tantalising over our heads. And now, at last, I can finally say I’ve seen it.
First things first, it’s very pretty. The set design, costuming and makeup are exquisite, the background of each shot are teeming with gothic trappings, strangely dressed extras, wonderful fake advertising and slightly creepy holographic portraits. The lighting and use of filters is also impressive, creating a futuristic yet otherworldy, old feel, a certain steampunk-vibe that the fantasy-geek in me really appreciates. The music is also highly enjoyable, though it will not be to everyone’s taste (please see my review of the soundtrack for more on the music), to sum up: it’s clever, full of parodies and “edgy” but accessible tunes but will certainly not impress everyone. The plot surprised me, deliberately veering in directions to what the soundtrack had me expecting, altering the order of the songs and cutting some tracks into pieces. The mix is also a little out, the vocals are, to my mind, a little too loud compared to the music, which is a shame considering the quality of the music, I suppose this was done to make the dialogue easier to understand, remember of course that this is a rock opera: all dialogue is sung.
The characters are probably the film’s best point, as whether or not you like the music and the plot, the characters themselves are great fun. With backstories explained through comic-book panel style animation, these are a rag-tag bunch of addicts, lunatics and rouges. Miss Hilton is surprisingly fun to watch as drug-addicted, whorish heiress Amber Sweet, while Ogre and Mosley have a ball as her equally immoral brothers; a face-stealing rapist and a caffeine-addicted, short-tempered murderer respectively. Sorvino brings some depth, not to mention an impressively operatic voice, as their father, head of yet another evil corporation. Former child star Alexa Vega gives a solid but occasionally irritating performance as Shilo, our Alice to Repo’s macabre Wonderland, but Head and Brightman have give the most impressive performances both vocally (good grief does Head have a pair of lungs on him!) and in terms of acting as two of the least bizarre characters, although compared to the others that’s not saying much! For me, the biggest surprise was Terrance Zdunich, who not only plays the GraveRobber, who acts as the Greek chorus to the piece, but also co-wrote the script and did the animations. He has an incredible voice, deliciously gothic and highly suited to his roguishly handsome character. Interplay between this pantheon of strange characters is vaguely reminiscent of “Magnolia”, all are connected either through accident or past experience, creating a network of tenuous links. Personally, I would have preferred to spend a little more time with each character, they’re well played, well cast and intriguing enough to warrant far more screen time than is given, but at least this allows for the plot to continue thundering along at an alarming rate.
In all, Repo is something of an oddity. It can hardly be called a “great film” but it is highly original, not afraid to try new things, add unusual combinations and, refreshingly, to add a heavy dose of impishly dark humour, at one point Head uses a corpse as a ventriloquist’s dummy, at another Hilton literally loses face. Many of the themes are also nicely subversive, pointing out increasing trends towards cosmetic surgery, for example. It certainly won’t have universal appeal, deliberately catering for a cult audience, with comparisons to Rocky Horror inevitable, both have a cast of strangely likeable freaks, both started off as stage show musicals, both have tragic but stagy endings, but such comparisons are a little unfair, Repo and Rocky are both cult films and aiming at a similar audience, but each are very much of their time. If men wearing eyeliner, Industrial music and women in corsets and fishnet tights aren’t your thing, you may want to give this one a miss, and for the rest of us, well, all together now: “Zydrate comes in a little glass vial. A little glass vial? A little glass vial!”