Saturday, November 22, 2008

Repo! The Genetic Opera

You probably won't like this movie. Then again, you might just love it.

I make that statement based solely on demographics and the law of averages. If you get queasy at the sight of blood, or you hate musicals, or you think opera belongs in an opera house, or you have no idea why any adult person would dress up in a costume unless they were getting paid to do so, then 'Repo!' is definitely not for you. That leaves out my parents, my sister, most of the people I work with, and everybody in my choir except possibly Harold.

Nah, Harold probably wouldn't like it either.

For the rest of you freaks, 'Repo! The Genetic Opera' might just become your new favourite movie.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where mankind has been decimated by a mysterious plague causing mass organ failures. A corporation called GeneCo, run by the devious Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) saves the day by creating genetically engineered organs, but at a hefty price. No worries, though - you can finance your new liver and kidneys through their easy installment plan.

Just don't miss a payment or the Repo Man will come to take them back. And he's not especially concerned about whether or not you survive the procedure.

Enter into this scenario a sickly teenaged girl who longs to be normal (Alexa Vega), her overprotective father with a secret life (Anthony Head), the three obnoxious miscreants who hope to inherit their father's GeneCo empire (Bill Moseley, Paris Hilton, and Ogre), and the formerly blind opera singer whose new eyes came at the price of eternal servitude (Sarah Brightman).

Then it gets complicated.

The story behind the film is almost as convoluted. 'Repo!' started life as a ten minute club act by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, and was eventually expanded into a full length stage play. At that point, Darren Lynn Bousman got involved. Darren, as fans of the genre all know, is the director of three of the wildly successful 'Saw' films. Having made millions for the studio, they told him he could do whatever he wanted for his next project.

He wanted to do this.

The studio execs suddenly became less enthusiastic. They loved the story and the gore - they just didn't like the singing bits. Bousman soldiered on, though, and despite having little support and no budget, he made his rock opera. And then the really hard part came - getting it seen. The studio had no idea what to do with it and just wanted to send it direct to DVD. But Bousman knew his audience and had other plans.

In an inspired bit of marketing genius, Bousman set up a kick-ass website and released the soundtrack one song at a time even before the film had finished shooting. By the time the first clips started hitting YouTube, 'Repo!' had a veritable army of fans clamouring to see this thing in a theatre.

By the time it sold out at the After Dark Film Festival in Toronto last month, they were showing up in costume, singing along with all the songs.

Last night was the first 'regular' showing in Toronto, marking the beginning of a limited one-week engagement at the Bloor Cinema, and they nearly sold out again. It's part of Bousman's privately financed Repo Road Tour with which he hopes to convince the distributors that this movie really does have an audience.

If it sounds like I'm avoiding writing an actual review, it's because judging 'Repo!' in conventional terms seems pretty pointless. It would be like trying to decide if Andy Warhol's portrait of Marilyn is a 'good painting'.

The story is unique and entertaining. The visuals are very, very stylish, although some moments suffer from budgetary constraints - notably the big opera finale which looks like it was filmed in a theatre smaller than the Bloor Cinema. The music is a bit uneven - some songs are a little painful, others you'll find yourself humming the next day. The cast is terrific, and all of them are excellent singers with the exception of Bill Moseley. Who knew that Paul Sorvino was an accomplished operatic tenor?

Which brings me to Paris. Yes, Paris Hilton plays Amber Sweet, the spoiled, superficial, surgery-addicted daughter of Rotti Largo. In other words, she's playing Paris Hilton. However, from everything I've heard from people who worked with her on this production, the Paris Hilton we see on tabloid TV is nothing more than a character, and the real Paris is a very smart, very savvy woman. Just look what she did to John McCain.

And yes, she can sing. But if you really can't stand the idea of seeing Paris Hilton in a movie, don't worry - she has a relatively minor role.

None of this really matters, though, or at least it didn't to me. I just found the whole thing immensely entertaining and just a whole lot of gory, campy fun. Most critics hated - hated! - it, and others had a great time. The Star and The National Post ran some pretty positive reviews yesterday for what it's worth.

Ultimately, this is a movie that needs to be seen in a theatre with a crowd of fans. Don't wait for the DVD. Do check out the website, watch the clips, and if you think you might be one of those rare birds who might enjoy this sort of thing (and you live in the GTA), make a point of going down to the Bloor Cinema this week and check it out. After this Thursday, who knows when you'll have another chance? If you want to meet some of the people responsible for the costumes and props (including my husband)*, they'll be at the 9:30 showing tonight doing a Q&A afterwards.

I'll have a pile of photos from last night that I'll post later tonight, including shots of Bousman surrounded by throngs of fans at the pub after he invited the whole theatre over for a pint after the show.

* In the interest of full disclosure, my husband did quite a bit of the leatherwork on this production, including Repo Man's iconic mask. He was a rock star last night once people found out who he was. He even got asked for an autograph. So where's his screen credit, Darren?

UPDATE: As promised, here are some shots from Friday at the Bloor.

'Genterns' waiting in line. They and everyone else in costume were eventually pulled out of line and given preferred seating.

All the media were there! Oh, and the hundreds of fans lined up around the block.

My man, posing with director Darren Lynn Bousman

The hardcore fans

Q&A with the director, MC'd by film critic Richard Crouse

Darren explaining the difference between 'musical' and 'opera'

Darren with his fans at the pub. He's engaged. Really.

Costume designer extraordinaire Alex Kavanagh


  1. Hey, I'M in the choir, remember? And I really want to see this!

  2. i'm quite looking forward to this. i spent a few days with the refrain "amber sweet is addicted to the knife, addicted the knife..." rattling about my brain pan.

  3. Les -

    Sorry! I still think of you as a Ren Fest friend instead of a Choristers friend. My bad.

  4. Great post (your other half posted the link from lj). I've seen Repo! here in L.A. four times, but never with a real "fan crowd." I'm ever hopeful Darren won't forget L.A. after he's brought Repo! to the masses everywhere else. I can wait. :)

    Bill Moseley's "singing" was hilarious in its badness, which made it sort of charming in a way. ASH did not disappoint (but does he ever?) Alex Vega totally surprised (and delighted) me, and after being such a "hater" for so long, Paris has won a place in my heart with her portrayal of Amber Sweet. What more could you ask for from a movie?

    Your husband's work, in a word, is (or will most definitely be) iconic. Here's hoping he gets the credit he so rightfully deserves.

    It's sort of romantic to me that Repo! originated in my hometown. Reminds me that Toronto is still an incredibly viable and creative place to be.