“A musical by Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman? Ha!” I cried in derision. I snorted with despair as I found out Paris Hilton was one of the leads. I wept for how the mighty had fallen as I discovered Paul Sorvino was playing an grumpy Italian-American dad. Then I actually watched the film.
Now, Repo! is really an opera. Most of the exposition and dialogue is sung. The history of the world it is set in- a future where an epidemic of organ failures has left GeneCo, a company that manufactures organs, with an almost monarchic power over the rest of the world- is told through the medium of cartoon. The visuals clash an industrial background with wild costuming, a mix of art deco, gothic, super-violence, cyberpunk and quite extraordinary hair to create Darick Robertson’s wet dream.
But this is, comfortingly, just background for the plot. Focused on Shilo (Alexa Vega), her father, Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head) and their relationships with the head of GeneCo, Rotti Largo (Sorvino). Now, I’ll be honest- without the songs, the plot would struggle to maintain any sort of hold. Anthony Stewart Head would just be a man mourning for his dead wife, Bill Moseley (as one of the Largo clan) would be an unnerving psycopath, and Paris Hilton an inanimate, spoiled heiress riddled with unfortunate surgery. But the music- as well as the sheer vocal talent of all involved- gives them all another, fantastically operatic dimension. Every character is an unrepetent caricature, but accompanied with the brilliant rock numbers provided, they become layered with meaning that would have been lost without it. Even smaller characters, like Amber Sweet (Hilton), a spokeswoman for addiction to Zydrate, a new, powerful painkiller, are given a bit of nuance in their musical performances.
Although the film isn’t perfect-the direction wavers at points, and the cinematography is admitted flat in some scenes- it’s fun. It’s blackly funny, and the powerhouse tunes do heighten ones tolerance for the gore gun being turned on full. And- although I’m sure this will interest no-one, and merely mention it as an aside- there’s a bit where Paris Hilton is writhing up against a wall in some rather scanty black leather wisp, accompanied by two deeply buff topless men. And so, even if the drugs and Rock and Roll weren’t enough, we’ve got sex too. No excuses.