New gothpunk musical Repo! The Genetic Opera hits select theaters this evening with the sound of dissected organs hitting the pavement. Either you've never heard of this rock opera turned dystopian sci-fi story about organ repossession in the 2050s, or you're one of those internet fans who've been jamming to the 57-part soundtrack for weeks. It's one of those movies you'll either ignore or love, which is a sure sign it's headed straight for midnight movie status. Repo! is no-holds-barred outrageous, and Paris Hilton has a pretty major role. While it may not fit any comfortable niche in Hollywood, its bizarre charm will surely earn it a cult following.What first attracted me to the film was Anthony Stewart Head, also known as too-sexy-for-his-age Watcher/librarian Giles of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Head lent spectacular and commanding vocals to that series' status-quo-busting musical episode, and he's quite fit to be the lead tenor here as the eponymous Repo Man who steals organs from the poor to give to the rich. He's also the loving yet unsettling father to sweet, sick Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega). The drama between father and daughter is at the heart of the show, set against the backdrop of a frightening future where health care is so dire that massive conglomerate GeneCo is out to rip the bloody viscera from the chests of anyone who can't front their bills. Among the many screaming denizens of this dystopia, Vega and Head are the talented, charismatic duo that hold this bewildering movie opera together.
Repo! grew out of a ten-minute stage show in 1999, and it's picked up lots of plot along the way: Each character comes with oodles of sizzling backstory and a few racy graphic novel panels that serve as explanation. There's a lot to keep track of here, meaning that devoted fans will have excess material by the boatload to pore over when all is said and done. Appearances by Sarah Brightman and Paul Sorvino lend significant vocal cred to the ensemble, and Terrance Zdunich's creepy Graverobber is the perfect de facto narrator. These five (Vega, Head, Brightman, Sorvino, and Zdunich) are probably the only sympathetic characters here – the only ones to whom the film has time enough to lend a bit of complexity. As for Paris Hilton, if you close your eyes and think of England, she goes away soon enough. The look of the film is pretty much what you'd expect. The cinematography is heavy with highlights and shadows – Repo!'s landscape uses light only to emphasize the dark, and its indulgent sweeps of a grimy, holographic future city will be a delight to anyone who thrilled at Blade Runner. Of course Victorian goth suffuses every costume. It's no surprise that people were ready with Repo! outfits this Halloween, before the movie even came out. Plus, it features a cool new futuristic drug – the painkilling Zydrate, which can be extracted easily from fresh corpses. There are simplistic though mildly insightful one-liners – "Why is genetics such a bitch?" croons Vega as Shilo, the girl with the seemingly incurable blood disease. Though it might not achieve the same critical acclaim, it has the Rocky Horror geek perv vibe: Repo is an overwhelmingly odd, shockingly sexual, rocked-out celebration of all that is gory and scary and alive. So if you've already been keeping an eye on the publicity and feeling a tingle in your throat, trust me, Repo! delivers. It may not be polished or genius, but it's fun – and Hollywood could use a bit of crazy, idea-filled fandom, if you ask me. But if the idea of watching naked women get slashed open to song in a world of corruption and despair – yeah, those parts were not so fun and idea-filled, as Fantasy Magazine pointed out. So if naked gore is a dealbreaker, stick to rewatching Chicago and The Matrix back-to-back this holiday season. For the rest, it's time to shoot some Zydrate and get ready to rock.