Chris Rock seems like an odd choice to spearhead a revival of the dormant Saw franchise, but the actor was a rabid fan of the grisly horror series and came to producers with an idea for a new Saw movie, and the results are Spiral: From the Book of Saw, like it’s a Biblical chapter. A Jigsaw copycat killer is targeting corrupt police officers and those who protected them, and Rock plays a detective who dared to turn in his partner after he murdered a crime scene witness. Rock’s character is seen as a traitor by his fellow brethren in blue, and as the Jigsaw copycat continues his or her bloody rampage, the history of police abuse and cover-ups comes to light. The problem with Spiral is that it feels like an entirely different independent script that somebody attached gory Saw set pieces and said, “Reboot.” The Saw set pieces get increasingly ludicrous and gross and the drama in between, where Rock tracks clues and barks at his peers, feels like boring connective tissue the movie can’t even bother to pretend is worth the effort. Both parts feel rote, the police conspiracy thriller and the gory death traps. The movie is also entirely predictable by the nature of the economy of characters. Within 15 minutes, I was able to predict the identity of the copycat killer as well as their connection and motive. This movie desperately needed more time with Rock and Samuel L. Jackson together. Another issue is that the movie ends abruptly and with a needed extra turn missing, perhaps where Rock agrees to work with the killer and justifies the executions as righteous reform. I wanted this new Saw to be more in keeping with Saw 6, the best sequel and most topical of the franchise where health care employees were put to fiendish ironic tests to punish them for denying medical coverage. It feels like targeting bad cops would produce more social commentary, but I guess that would get in the way of watching people try and sever their own spine on a single nail. Spiral doesn’t feel any more promising than the other attempted Jigsaw reboot in 2017 even with its topical elements. It might be cheap enough to earn a sequel, but it feels like a franchise eternally going in circles.
A Quiet Place Part II is the first movie I’ve seen physically in theaters since the middle of March 2020, and I genuinely missed the experience. It’s been the longest I’ve ever gone in my adult life without seeing movies in the theater, and this was one that felt like the presentation would be elevated by the big screen and superior sound system. Taking place nearly minutes after the conclusion of the 2018 hit, the surviving Abbott family ventures off their farm to find refuge and potentially find a way to protect themselves and neighboring communities from the killer monsters attracted to noise. The opening is the only flashback we get; everything else is forward-looking. I would have enjoyed getting more Day One experiences where the monsters first attacked, especially as we become open to new characters and their own harrowing journeys. The movie, written and directed by John Krasinski, isn’t quite as novel and brilliantly executed as its predecessor, but it’s still a strong sequel that gives you more while leaving you wanting more by the end. The majority of this lean 97 minutes is split between the family, one half staying put in a warehouse basement, and the other traveling out into the open to find a radio tower. The set pieces are still taut though rely more on jump scares this go-round, granted well executed jump scares that still got me to jolt in my seat and squeeze my girlfriend’s hand a little tighter. Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) is the most significant addition as an Abbott family friend who has lost his whole family since that opening flashback. He’s a broken-down man, a parallel for Krasinski’s father figure from the first film, and at points it feels like he’s being set up to appear sinister, or at least hiding some dark secret that never really comes to fruition. The world building is expanded and introduces a very Walking Dead-familiar trope of desperate people being just as dangerous as deadly monsters, though in a world of hearing-enhanced creatures, I would think there’s more danger in larger numbers than security. The movie earns its triumphant ending even if the staging, and cross-cutting, is a little heavy-handed. A Quiet Place Part II is a successful sequel that understands the unique appeal of its franchise and how to keep an audience squirming while also remain emotionally involved and curious for more.
A Quiet Place Part II: B+
In a dystopian future, organ failure has become an epidemic. Fortunately, the GeneCo Corporation and its CEO Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) have devised a solution. They will loan out new organs to those in need. However, if the customer happens to be late on a payment then GeneCo sends out the Repo Man. This hooded figure will track you down and surgically remove GeneCo’s property, and perhaps they’ll harvest the rest of you too. People become obsessed with surgery upgrades (just think what wonders a third kidney could do for you). Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) is a famous opera singer that signed a contract for new corneas. She’s now reconsidering retiring from the stage, no matter what that means. There’s also a powerful pain killer known as Zydrate that can be extracted from fresh corpses. Anyone caught robbing graves will be shot on sight.
One repo man, Nathan Wallace (Anthony Stewart Head), is working to keep his daughter safe. Shilo (Alexa Vega) has a rare blood disease she inherited from her mother, who died in childbirth. Nathan must keep her locked away in order for her to survive. His daughter must never know his true identity as a repo man. Rotti is informed that he is dying from inoperable cancer. His trio of bratty, homicidally crazy children (Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, Nivek Ogre) are all fighting over who will get to run GeneCo once dad’s dead. Rotti plans a big bloody finale for everyone at the Genetic Opera’s final curtain call.
To answer the most burning question, yes it is an opera. There are perhaps five spoken lines and the rest of the movie is completely sung; you will get a solid 85 minutes of people singing while they engage in plenty of questionable acts. To say that Repo is unique is a disservice to the flick. I cannot imagine watching another movie that combines opera, vivisection, surgery addiction, Gothic costuming, and Paris Hilton actually doing a credible performance. Knowing that it is indeed a full-fledged opera, it mostly eliminates the snickers that arise from watching actors break into song at curious moments; when they’re singing all the time you’re more aware when they stop. It’s a futuristic rock opera that exists in the realm of a horror movie. There are several dispirited elements that can be occasionally awkward but that isn’t necessarily the flick’s fault. I just haven’t witnessed too many folks singing while arm-deep inside an exposed chest cavity. The movie isn’t as bloody or gory as repulsed film critics have lead you to believe. There are about four sequences of horror gore, though the film does resort to casual violence that can be off-putting, like stabbing extras. Repo possesses a wickedly entertaining and gleeful spirit.
But how is the music for such an avant guard enterprise? It’s pretty solid, actually. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, naturally with some vulgar lyrics, but the music is certainly well crafted, with strong melodies, catchy hooks, squealing guitars, and some rather impressive singing. The music is reminiscent of industrial rock acts but it also has some pretty flavorful pop styling (the pounding hard rock beats reminded me of the underrated band, kidneythieves). These are tunes that will stick in your grey matter. Some of the highlights include “Infected,” where Shilo laments her condition and says, “I’m infected/By your genetics!/Mother can you hear me?/Thanks for the disease!” The tune is likely the catchiest of them all and has a fun pop-punk melody that becomes a leitmotif. Vega also proves immediately that she can sing. “Zydrate Anatomy” is led by the charming vocals of the Graverobber (Terrance Zdunich, who co-wrote the music and lyrics) as he exposits to the audience the ins and outs of the drug market. The guitars careen and the backup junkie chorus (“A little black vial? A little black vial!”) add some depth to the tune. But least you think it’s all Goth rock, Repo mixes in traditional arrangements as well, including plenty of harried violins, cellos, and some classical opera music. There are also subdued ballads like “I Didn’t Know I’d Love You So Much” and “Genetic Emancipation” that conclude the film on a high note. It all blends together into a unique soundscape that’s well worth singing along to.
Unlike the big screen version of Mamma Mia, the cast of Repo can actually sing, and they sing quite well. Vega (Spy Kids) sounds like a better Avril Lavigne than Avril Lavigne. She’s an ingénue that actually gets some good songs. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will recall that Head gave a standout performance on the TV show’s musical episode, and here he shows his amazing lung capacity. Head has a rich tenor voice that is lovely to hear. He howls with soulful anguish and holds onto notes for long duration. It’s tricky to present a performance only through song and Head has the most complex role (in one song he laments that “I’m the monster!/I’m the villain!”). Head also switches over into a gravely demonic voice, like his maniacal “I’m on the job” voice to frighten his victims. The personality shift is a credit to Head’s vocal range. The rest of the cast includes singers with actual opera experience (Sorvino, Brightman) and musicians (Skinny Puppy’s Ogre), and then there’s Hilton. She’s already proven with one flop album that the hotel heiress is not the surest singer in the world. However, she works with the material as a spoiled rich kid consumed by her vanity (at one point her face literally falls off).
Repo! The Genetic Opera plays better as a soundtrack than as a movie. The story is mostly simple but still manages to be confusing at points because of unresolved subplots. The characters are given glimmers of outgrowing their stock roles, but most of them just accept their underwritten fates. Repo seems like it’s on the verge of making social commentary on vanity, man’s compulsion to destroy himself to live outside one’s means, the disposable nature of beauty, destiny versus free will, but it never really delves deeper. The surface is barely skimmed and then the movie kind of chugs along at a super brisk pace. The movie has a trashy, campy atmosphere that can wear thin at times, especially under director Darren Lynn Bousman’s lackluster lens. I know this is low budget but Bousman doesn’t conceal the budget limitations too well and his shot selections can seem rather redundant and mundane for a music video, let alone a feature length film. With that said, this is still worlds more ambitious than Bousman punishing audiences with another Saw sequel (he directed Saw 2-4 and took time off from 5 for this flick). Some of the songs, while fun, seem out of place given the narrative, like the punkish “Seventeen” where Vega declares her womanhood and pretends to be a rock star and pounces around her bedroom, complete with dancing stuffed animals. It’s almost like a Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana moment of strange daydreaming. The finale at the opera is a tad overwrought and yet it seems appropriate given the operatic backdrop.
I’m dumbfounded that some critics would cite Repo! The Genetic Opera as the worst film of 2008. How could something this ambitious, with such a killer soundtrack, be worse than 88 Minutes, The Hottie and the Nottie, and the atrociously harmful Meet the Spartans? The movie is far from perfect and is bizarre, messy, and somewhat shambling, but I have a healthy appreciation for a film that tries something different, whether or not it succeeds. A bloody rock opera seems like it’s begging to be considered midnight movie material, but it’s better than that. This curious experiment works better as a soundtrack than a movie, but it’s well worth seeing because, really, when are you going to catch another freaking movie like this? If you ever venture inside a Gothic-themed club, you can expect to see this movie playing on a TV somewhere until the end of time. My advice: buy the soundtrack and get ready to have the songs take root in your brain.
Nate’s Grade: B-