When a newcomer named Darren Bousman was given the helm of Saw 2, the horror fans thought "Hey, as long as he keeps the series interesting." When he landed Saw 3, we figured it was a no-brainer, considering how successful Part 2 was and then when he came back for Saw 4, those who were still paying attention had changed their tune: "Three flicks and they're all Saw sequels? When's this guy gonna try something different?" Fine. You want different? Here you go: Repo! The Genetic Opera. A horror / fantasy / rock opera that has a lot in common with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and nothing in common with a conventional genre piece, Repo! is lots of conflicting things at once: It's colorful, yet dark. It's silly, yet kinda sick. It's a broad dark comedy that also has a nasty streak and a sweet side. And while it's certainly not a flawless little experiment, the simple truth is that I can't help but respect a director who does something THIS different after delivering three relatively "safe" projects.
This is a weird movie.
Bound to be adored by the gothy-type teenagers who used to adore Tim Burton but are now looking for something a little edgier, Repo! The Genetic Opera is about a futuristic husk of a world in which human body parts are not only bought and sold over the black market -- but repossessed by the nefarious GeneCo enforcer. (He's called the Repo Man, and let's just say he's a bill collector you'd definitely avoid.) But the Repo Man is actually a sweet and sensitive single parent -- despite the fact that he's a ruthless butcher -- and it's his daughter who is the central focus of the story. Poor young Shilo (Alexa Vega) suffers from a mysterious disease, and it's her virtual imprisonment in daddy's icy home that leads her to wander. It doesn't take long before sickly little Shilo is embroiled in a struggle with the entire GeneCo family, including tycoon Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), his surgery-addicted daughter Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton), a semi-helpful grave robber (Terrance Zdunich), and a sightless diva named Blind Mag (a stunning Sarah Brightman).
And I haven't even gotten to the really weird parts yet.
Suffice to say that the stuff that works best in Repo! are the little things best discovered by a viewer. I can say without spoiling anything that leads Alexa Vega and Anthony Head (as her dad and the ruthless Repo Man) are so good that they're probably worth the price of admission all by themselves. Then there's a deliciously over-the-top Paul Sorvino performance, the creepy loveliness of the aforementioned Ms. Brightman, and so many crazy tunes that you're bound to enjoy at least a few of 'em. (If you're asking me, the songs get a lot better as the movie goes on.) Bousman clearly wanted to make a movie that works best in an aural fashion, but there's lots of darkly dazzling candy for the eyeballs as well. The flick's dank-yet-garish futuristic set design takes a little getting used to, but it also gives us lots of wild things to look at when the music's not playing; the plot is slight but just compelling enough to wrap a bunch of songs around; and there's a dizzy air of tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm that permeates the flick as a whole. As if Bousman and his team hope you'll take all this stuff seriously -- but definitely not TOO seriously.
Repo! The Genetic Opera is far from a perfect film. Some of the songs may have been better off on the cutting room floor, Bousman's tricky little flashback sections work well on their own, but also manage to slow the main plot down once in a while, and there's not really much of an "in" for those who don't immediately get what the director is slingin'. But for all its glitches and oddities, Repo! impressed me on sheer force of strangeness, originality, and audacity. Love the flick or hate it, there's little denying that Repo! is definitely something different. And let's face it: Us horror fans don't get treated to "different" all that often. Especially from a guy who once directed three sequels in a row. I expect Repo! to be embraced and adored on DVD by the movie fans who help turn "weird" flicks into "cult" favorites. Some of it is dazzling, some of it is silly, but not much of it seems familiar. And to a horror fan, that's a big deal.