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Repo! The Genetic Opera: A Love Story

4 August 2010 2 Comments by

Repo The Genetic Opera Movie posterREPO! The Genetic Opera: So goth it sacked Rome and then went home and listened to Siouxie and the Banshees. Sweeney Todd if it were a rock opera about health insurance and bad parenting. Our generation’s Rocky Horror. What is this geektasmic phenomenon that’s sweeping the nerd-world?

(Non-spoilery description ahead, though the movie’s almost two years old. When does the statute of limitations for spoilers run out?)

You may have noticed the costumes at cons: cyberpunk with an infusion of gothic lolita, rubber hasmat suits with glowing visors, rubbery flesh-masks. It’s campy, it’s fantastic, and more and more conventions are screening it: Repo! The Genetic Opera.

There are many ways to describe Repo to the uninitiated, as the plot doesn’t lend itself to simple explanations. In a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk future, an organ-destroying plague has killed off a huge amount of the population. The city is built on top of a mass grave. The company that solved the organ crisis, GeneCo, has grown wealthy and powerful. Elective surgery is trendy. If you can’t afford the operation, GeneCo offers financing.

In the real world if you miss a few payments, your bill might go to a collections company where the worst you can expect are some nasty calls and maybe a few harshly-worded letters. You might go bankrupt, but at least you have your health. In Repoland, your organs can be repossessed stabbity-style by a shadowy figure called the Repo Man.

Rotti Largo built the GeneCo empire and means to leave it to a worthy heir. Unfortunately, his three children are some murdery whoring drug-addict types. When he sees Shiloh Wallace, the daughter of his now-dead ex-fiance and the Repo Man, he decides to leave it all to her… if she’s worthy. Shenanigans ensue!

Why is Repo such a geek phenomenon? The music is appealing –if you don’t have Zydrate Anatomy stuck in your head after you hear it, tell me, because you may be a zombie– and there’s such a broad variety of aesthetics displayed that there’s something for every flavor of enthusiast. It made a splash in the steampunk community, as many of the costumes, sets and props are reminiscent of Victorian style. The dystopian future is cyberpunk all the way through. Some of the music is more operatic, some of it is more techno, but it’s compelling enough to buoy the story through the weaker moments. There’s even some political appeal, as health care is coming into the national spotlight.

At its barcoded still-beating heart, Repo is a story about parents, the sins of the fathers, and what effect they have on the next generation. Nathan Wallace, the RepoMan is a good man who’s done bad things. He keeps his daughter sheltered but otherwise raises her well enough to make good decisions. Rotti Largo is a bad guy who lets his children out into the world, and they make terrible and hilarious life choices.

Repo‘s a B-movie with something for everyone and good ideas that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The fibery crunch of a moral is covered by a sweet layer of morbid frosting. It’s the kind of movie where the plot holes make it more fun to watch with a group. That’s why like Rocky Horror, it’s becoming a shadow cast phenomenon. Conventions are holding screenings where fans can interact with the movie and make it their own.

If you’ve never seen one, a shadow cast consists of costumed actors playing out the scenes as they’re running on the screen. They make the show more personal by inviting the audience to participate. For instance, Rocky Horror features callbacks, lines yelled MST3k-style between the movie’s dialogue, and participants are encouraged to bring props and wear costumes. As far as I know, Repo‘s too new to have a set of callbacks that’ve become canonical from cast to cast, but that’s part of the fun.

It’s a guilty pleasure movie. There are plotholes you could tunnel through and it’s sometimes downright silly, but it seems like the kind of project everyone involved loved. The propaganda posters in the background, the crazy costumes on the extras, the Joan Jett cameo, you can’t help but fall in love with it yourself.

You can find information on Repo shadow casts at reposhadowcast.com. Have a shadow cast experience? Disagree with my interpretations? Have an interpretation of your own? Let’s hear about it in the comments!


  • Super Special said:

    The songs didn’t rhyme at all! I think Rotti was the only one that could carry a tune and keep things entertaining.

    Seriously, it’s a damn musical and nobody could sing in a way that kept a proper rhythm.

  • Susan (author) said:

    Are you telling me you weren’t even a little amused by Nathan gutting a corpse and using it as a puppet?