It's far more sophisticated, no doubt, to talk about the "aesthetics of the hideous" than to describe a film as "torture porn." But that's precisely what Repo! The Genetic Opera is: It's relentlessly gory as an array of motley characters, who resemble refugees from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, joyously slice, dice, and gouge each other. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I spent a large part of the movie with my eyes sealed shut. If only I'd had earplugs. With its high-decibel punk-rock soundtrack, this flick is almost as assaulting aurally as it is visually.
Though it's not entirely clear what it's all about or where and when it takes place (and who cares), the production notes insist Repo is set in the mid-21st century, despite the many scenes evoking the Victorian Gothic, complete with foggy graveyards and creaky doors. Futurism meets Bram Stoker. There are plots and subplots to spare, but basically Repo recounts what happens in the wake of an epidemic of organ failures across the globe. GeneCo, a bio-tech company headed by archvillain Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), has emerged to provide organ transplants for a hefty price. Those poor souls who are unable to make their payments are targeted for organ repossession and stalked by the Repo Man (Anthony Head). Drug dealers are thrown into the mix, and they too cripple, maim, and disembowel their victims, like delighted players at an S&M club. There is a young, sheltered girl (Alexa Vega) with a rare disease and a mysterious lineage who is looking for answers, a blind singer (Sarah Brightman) who has sold her soul to the devil, and Largo's spoiled daughter (Paris Hilton), who can't stop having surgeries.
The big question is why a distinguished actor like Sorvino would lend himself to this tasteless drivel. Was he that much in need of a paycheck? Admittedly, Sorvino, a trained singer, has a chance to display his operatic talents in the midst of the screeching, but he is in no way convincing as an evildoer. In fact, he is vaguely silly and terribly misplaced. Head fares somewhat better as the concerned father who moonlights as the Repo Man. Brightman's voice is easy enough to listen to, and she is not implausible as a simple-minded woman who has a big secret and makes a Faustian deal. (Repo marks her feature-film debut). And Hilton is perfectly acceptable as Largo's self-serving, chameleonic daughter.
But none of the performances can salvage Repo, which may end up as a cult classic among those who find graphic brutality on this scale witty and cosmopolitan. For this viewer, however, one word says it all: repellent.
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich
Starring: Alexa Vega, Anthony Head, Sarah Brightman, Paris Hilton, Paul Sorvino