May 30, 2017
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) (part 3 of 7)
After an overly done title shot, we’re zooming over the water towards GeneCo’s tower and its floating billboards, while loudspeakers urge us to “keep repossessions legal”—not that repeal of the repo law ever becomes a plot point in any way, shape or form whatsoever, so thanks for misleading and confusing us before we’re even done with the actual opening shot of the film, guys. That must be a record. The billboards, meanwhile, are advertising “Mag’s farewell performance” at the Genetic Opera. Mag will become important later, if by “important” you mean “visually prominent but completely superfluous.”
But we don’t have time to worry about that because we’re already past the billboards and zooming toward a cemetery, where a faux Nichelle Nichols in funeral drag is wailing on and on about “things you see in a graveyard”. That’s a tough category for me—I usually do a lot better with “Potent Potables.”
Anyway get used to that phrase, folks, because you’ll be hearing it a lot.
The article continues after these advertisements...
And, even though we just zoomed past it to look at a graveyard for a few seconds, now we cut back to GeneCo, where we finally meet Rotti Largo in the flesh and weep for what used to be Paul Sorvino’s career. His three children are lounging on his office furniture. Rotti mulls over photos of his kids doing—something—somewhere and growls at them, “You disgust me.” Well, so far, Paul Sorvino and I are in complete agreement.
A doctor who looks like Sam Waterston arrives, and suddenly the kids are gone [?]. (And don’t tell me the camera angles just aren’t showing them, because much later, at the climax, they’re shocked to learn what the doctor is about to tell Rotti. So—huh? Was Rotti just hallucinating his kids? Or was this movie edited by monkeys?) The doctor is telling him that he doesn’t have much time left, only to get a bullet for his trouble. Wow. Let’s take stock here. The very first thing we see Rotti do in the live-action section of the film is a villain cliché that’s older than dirt. We’re in for some hellacious suckage, aren’t we? Yes, I’m afraid we are.
Accompanied by shotgun-wielding blue-lipped women who look like they escaped from a Robert Palmer video, Rotti takes the down elevator from his sky-rise sepulcher of an office and (sigh) talk-sings about how he’s dying and everyone’s pestering him about who his heir will be. And, drum-roll please…
This is the plot of the movie.
You know, this whole mess might have redeemed itself if it actually returned on its promise to be a real gorefest, but no. Bousman and Co. shrewdly guessed that lines of corporate succession would be much more entertaining. The only thing horrifying about this plotline is that the ablest candidate of the three kids is Paris freaking Hilton.
During all of this stomach-sinking exposition, which is underlaid by Uhura still singing about “things we see in a graveyard,” we irrelevantly intercut with a teenage goth girl in her bedroom. This is where we get our first glance at our heroine, Shilo, sleeping in a hyperbaric tent apparently made from shower curtains. She’s surrounded by cuddwy-sweet stuffed animals and a whole bunch of cutesy-wootsey fragile-looking glass decorations that will in no way be destroyed in a fit of pubescent rage by the end of the film.
As Rotti goes on and on about how he’ll “keep those vultures guessing,” she dons a gas mask, grabs a torch, and makes her way through a super-secret (and yellow) tunnel from her house to, wouldn’t you know it, a graveyard. I wonder what things she’ll see there?
More specifically, she’s come to visit the crypt where her mother is buried. (Do you care when this movie is set? The grave marker says she died in 2040, which is 17 years before—yeah, I don’t either.) Absorbing the content and feel of this scene I have a sneaking suspicion Zdunich et al. read many an issue of Heavy Metal growing up. Call it a hunch.
But never fear! This part isn’t some brilliant “satire” of a fearful Christmas Yet To Come thing—she just misses her dead mother. And wants to collect some rare bugs that crawl along her grave marker. You know, because she’s withdrawn and introverted, in case the whole oxygen tent thing didn’t tip you off. The bug’s a little too fast for her, but she’s not gonna give up, because otherwise her first song wouldn’t be all about her stalking insects as a hobby. This bug, by the way, is a big blue glowing thing that looks like a cross between a scorpion, a mosquito, and those things that ate Keanu Reeves.
She chases the bug out of the crypt and captures it, which somehow prompts Graverobber, who’s lurking nearby, to join in with his song about industrialization [!] as he robs a grave. He and Shilo duck the storm-troopers GeneCo has patrolling the area because it looks cool, while Graverobber reiterates the premise of the film (again!).
Incidentally, one of the headstones is for Peter Block, which is appropriate, since he’s almost certainly rolling over in his grave. That guy’s dead, right?
On an unrelated note, I just asked my Teddy Scare how many ways you can do variations on “these two things are totally related to each other” and still sound sarcastic, but he just won’t shut up about kickboxing.
Graverobber sings the backstory of the film again as he extracts a glowing blue liquid from the nose of a dead woman, which is actually a neat visual, but like most such moments in bad movies, it’ll never be relevant to the plot in a “can’t leave it on the cutting room floor” sort of way. Graverobber’s high note draws the attention of the heat, sending him and Shilo (why is this shy bug-collecting girl hanging out with the narrator, again?) ducking into an ossuary, where Graverobber just can’t help but do the nose thing again, even though they’re being chased by generic jackbooted stormtroopers and should really be making with the amscray. Shilo’s in a hurry to get home, presumably because, as if it were any surprise, Repo Man’s her father, and it might not be so good for her to be out and about at night.
Oh, come on, it was in the previews.
Sure enough, just as she’s belting out “I shouldn’t be here!” and Graverobber’s recapping the plot for the fifth or sixth time so far, Shilo gets pinched for grave robbery. But (gasp!) she’s innocent! She was just hunting scorpion-beetles! Suddenly I’m convinced this is a dystopia after all.
But Rotti, who’s been watching all of this somehow on a big giant viewscreen, has other plans. (He’s in his office again, flanked by his blue-lipped Robert Palmer diva Nazis. So he took the down elevator from his office… back to his office? Huh?) Rotti’s voice comes over a loudspeaker in the graveyard—a standard accoutrement of all of the better cemeteries, I hear—telling the stormtroopers to let her go. And now Repo himself is on the scene, shoving the stormtroopers away from Shilo. Meanwhile Shilo’s collapsed on the ground, starting to lose her marbles, and her necklace is beeping and telling her that her blood pressure is too low. I would think a situation like this would make it go up, but it makes her faint, so I’m happy.
Repo gets all tragically-misunderstood-like and (after a fade to black) she’s back in her hyperbaric chamber, where we learn that her super goth hairdo is actually a wig. She apparently has the same rare blood disease that killed mommy. Her doctor father, who now appears at her bedside, is trying to convince her she wasn’t outside the house and just imagined the previous scene (if only I had!), but I think the wig part is much more interesting, since it’s the first thing in the film you can’t see coming.
They sing/converse in truly heinous fashion about how he feels very protective of her, and how she promises she’ll take her medicine and be a good girl, yadda yadda. It’s like they were trying to do a spoof of bad musicals and failed, miserably.
Here’s a free tip, not just for them but for all aspiring writers: Rocky Horror only works because it’s not trying to sell itself as a serious horror film!
The “conversation” continues, I guess, with Nathan, the father, shout-singing about how he’ll “stop at nothing” to keep Shilo safe and promises to find a cure. His doting dad routine is laid so thick here, he does absolutely everything short of turning to the audience and shouting, “There is no possible way I could be the Repo Man!” to try and make the next bit a plot twist.
They make up, with Shilo convinced that her father couldn’t possibly be an axe-crazy sociopath and agreeing to take her meds. He deadbolts her inside her room to the tune of a sinister accordion [?] while she muses about being sick and goes into an angry song about arguing with her father. She’s yell-singing at her mother’s (very cool three-D holographic) picture, in her best growly Broadway bad-girl voice, about how mommy passed on the defective genes that made Shilo sick (sample lyric: “Tell me why oh why are my genetics such a bitch!”).
All during this pathetic rant we see lots of random things in the room—not only what looks like a poster for this very film hanging on her wall, but loving close-ups of all the stuffed animals and glass trinkets, which, once again, will in no way face her wrath before the film is over. The foreshadowing might not be so blatant if a significant portion of the lyrics weren’t just her swearing. She’s not exactly conveying Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm here.
She switches back to her “innocent” voice and, standing at the balcony window, whimpers about how she wants “to go outside”—even though she was just outside, and told Dad before that she knew she hadn’t imagined it. Thanks to the miracle of CGI insets we pull way out to another view of the skyline and ad for the Opera, and then smash cut to Nathan, who’s been listening outside Shilo’s door the whole time.
Nathan morphs into a still drawing of himself and we get another cartoon backstory [!]. See, once Repo was just some guy named Nathan, who had the perfect life, until his wife Marni got sick while she was pregnant. He tried whipping up a cure in his basement, but ended up poisoning her and having to cut Shilo out of her womb by himself. So I guess once you start slicing people up, it’s tough to stop? Really, that’s pretty much what I’m getting from this.