Somewhere deep inside Repo! The Genetic Opera is a great dark sci-fi/horror story. The idea of a dystopian society where one company controls the organ trade as a credit business is solid. Not to brag, but one of the first slipstream stories I ever had published (way back in 2001) was about signing up as an organ donor for monetary credit in the same kind of future. It’s a coincidence that lets me realize how strong this story could be in the right hands.
If you take each individual song as a separate event, Repo! The Genetic Opera could be mistaken for a good film. It is not. The songs in the context of the film are either so static that they stop the film in its tracks or a direct retread of established exposition.
“Chase the Morning” is the moment where the actual plot of Repo! begins. It’s very late in the film to start the story, but that’s another issue altogether. The only thing established in this song is Blind Mag knows Shilo’s family. We already know that Shilo’s mother is dead. We already know her father locked her in the house to protect her. And we already know that Blind Mag knows her retirement from GeneCo means she will lose the eyes the company gave her.
Yet, for three minutes, we see Blind Mag tell Shilo she knows her. Shilo responds every time by pointing out that her father doesn’t want her to interact with the outside world. After 20 seconds, we’re at a static musical impasse. Nothing is gained from the song except the cool visual of the animated projection out of Mag’s eyes. Half the songs in the film have the same problem.
The other issue is redundant songs. They’re more dynamic and musical than the static songs, but they’re literal retreads of plot points that were just established.
The creative team was so bent on not creating a traditional movie musical that they broke rules just to break them. A big aspect of telling a musical story is establishing plot in song. If you bury the big story posts in dialogue, no one will remember. Set them to song and they won’t forget.
Take “Zydrate Anatomy” as an example. Isolated from the film, you think it tells you a whole lot of improtant information. The pain killer used in cosmetic procedures is highly addictive. People will do anything to get some for cheap back alley procedures. It’s a painless drug that wipes away all memory of discomfort from the procedure.
In the film, however, the comic book artwork that provides heavy exposition throughout the story just said those facts. The chance of that song having any lasting impact beyond a catchy industrial beat is destroyed by a refusal to let the songs drive the film. Almost all of the exposition songs have the same problem. If it’s not established in the comics, it’s established in the first 30 seconds of one of the static songs twenty minutes before.
You have to walk before you can run. This creative team didn’t even learn to crawl through the basic principles of movie musicals before making one. The result is a random accumulation of music videos that lack impact or cohesion because they either say nothing or repeat what was already spoon fed to the audience.
It’s actually quite amazing that Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrence Zdunich managed to conform so quickly to actual musical standards in The Devil’s Carnival. They clearly learned something from the struggles of selling a sung-through film that is not actually a musical or opera. Repetition is actually a device used in their second big screen horror musical and it works because the repeated plot reveals new information about the story, characters, and setting.
Technically, any story could become a musical. The key is actually committing to the musical style. You will never succeed in creating any form of art you disdain. Repo! The Genetic Opera is such a clear attempt to fight against the traditional concept of movie musicals that it never even had a chance of succeeding as a quality film.
If you want to make a musical, make a musical. If you don’t want to make a musical, don’t do it. You can’t take both approaches at the same time unless you don’t want to make a good film. Repo! The Genetic Opera proves that.