A successful businessman, who just happens to be addicted to blood, finds an unsuspecting soul mate and tries to navigate their existence together in Spike Lee’s latest joint, the sexy but unsatisfying film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
Reports of celebrated filmmaker Spike Lee’s demise were very much alive after the release of his disastrous film, Red Hook Summer. Although Lee’s latest doesn’t soar to the heights of some of his earlier work, it at least returns an edgy element that has been missing from some of his recent work.
After launching a noteworthy Kickstarter campaign to fund his untitled film, Lee’s intriguing choice to remake Bill Gunn’s 1973 film, Ganja and Hess, was met with eager anticipation. The film tells the story of anthropologist, Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) who in a scuffle with his assistant, Lafayette (Elvis Nolasco) is stabbed with an ancient artifact that turns him into a modern-day vampire.
Much of the story deals with how Dr. Greene is viewed and how he seamlessly adapts to privilege and upper-crust attitudes about society living in the Hamptons as a member of the “undead.” He lives in solitude, aside from the occasional feedings that take place during random cruising adventures where he quenches his insatiable thirst for human blood. After feeding on unsuspecting victims including a streetwise prostitute, Lucky (Felicia Pearson of The Wire) and a young mother with her baby in tow, Greene’s life takes a life-altering turn when he meets the widow of his assistant, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams).
Stranded and penniless, Hess invites Ganja to his lovely home and the two instantly are attracted to one another. Displaying sensuality that is a hallmark of Lee’s film, the two seal their bond and soon become an item. After they marry, Hess “initiates” his wife and the two officially become as one.
While there are plenty of aspects that are interesting in this film, Lee still holds on to elements of the original story that give his current film a dated out of place feel with modern storytelling. Beginning with the use of story props, cars, dialogue and the like, in paying homage to Gunn’s film, he fails to adapt the film to a more contemporary tone.
Williams as Greene is serviceable but falls woefully short to the strong litany of leads that Lee has featured in films over his almost 30-year career. His portrayal of Greene is largely a single-note effort that neither peaks or soars and one has to wonder if that interpretation of the character was the best choice for this story.
Even though Abrahams is a beautiful winning choice for Ganja, she too is burdened by an uneven character composition that paints her as a snobby, upper-crust witch who revels in torturing Greene’s servant but switches into a loving partner to her new-found love. Abrahams brings much of the sexy attitude to the story, including a sensual but bloody encounter with Greene’s former girlfriend, the beautiful Naté Bova. Abrahams is a refreshing find and pumps much needed energy into a stodgy and stilted affair.
After almost 30 years of making major motion pictures, Lee’s perspective has evolved and his renegade style of filmmaking has almost become passé. Gone are the days when the mention of a new Spike joint would be met with breathless anticipation of what this talented auteur would produce next as a new, younger generation of Black filmmakers have eclipsed the grizzled veteran. The man who single-handedly was responsible for a Black film renaissance in the mid-1980s has become a cinematic nomad forced to raise money online to get his films made while other celebrated peers continue working relationships with major studios.
Although the great lion may have lost some of his teeth, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus still shows that there is some light in the camera left for Lee and we are still believers in his immense talent despite recent evidence to the contrary.