review for Repo! The Genetic Opera on AllMovie

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
by Derek Armstrong review

Because Darren Lynn Bousman had just soullessly toiled away on the second, third, and fourth Saw movies, it would be easy to dismiss him as a hack with no vision beyond that required to see his next paycheck. But if churning out those movies was a necessary evil toward making his passion project, Repo! The Genetic Opera, then all is forgiven. Repo! was excoriated by critics for such reasons as the casting of Paris Hilton, as well as its risky premise: an R-rated opera in which surgically implanted organs are repossessed for nonpayment. It seems many critics couldn't get past their knee-jerk reactions, because if they had, they would have recognized Repo! as the ambitious feast of originality that it is. This is what Tim Burton should have gone for with Sweeney Todd: a dark, dystopian epic that's emotionally satisfying, but also sometimes funny, and lives up to the expected scope of its format. As the father and daughter at the center of the story, Anthony Head and Alexa Vega bring terrific depth of feeling to their characters, and Buffy fans will be especially delighted to see Head (their beloved Giles) in the leading role he so richly deserves. It helps to have plenty of feeling built in to the songs from the original stage musical, composed by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, whose lyrics stop just short of being comically literal. The supporting performances are also effective in context, from Paul Sorvino to soprano Sarah Brightman, with even Hilton herself fitting into the film's thrust.

It's important to remember that Repo!'s trash factor is intentional, as this film actively aspires to join the lurid ranks of film's great exploitation movies. But there's nothing unintentionally trashy about it, either in terms of its sentiments (the tragic story is plenty involving), its social commentary (our appearance-obsessed society gets a wicked skewering), or its production (a balance between sweeping digital cityscapes and low-tech sets that embrace Repo!'s stage origins). Even the comic-book panels that advance the narrative work perfectly with Bousman's design. "Narrated" by a sympathetic gravedigger who traffics in street surgical drugs, Repo! The Genetic Opera has got "future cult classic" written all over it. It could be the Rocky Horror Picture Show of gothic rock operas, to a receptive audience. And Bousman proves he has good creative vision after all, free from those snapping traps that had shackled him.