Review: Spike Lee’s ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’

By Antoinette Isama

Spike Lee takes a stab at horror film with his first Kickstarter funded film, “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” which opened this week. A remake of Bill Gunn’s 1973 independent film “Ganja and Hess,” Lee offers an uncanny analysis of religion, art and sexuality through a story of vampirism and uncontrollable addiction — literally and figuratively.

Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams), an anthropologist studying the ancient Ashanti Empire, encounters an ancient dagger that alters his life, which is centered on his quaint, inherited 40-acre estate in Martha’s Vineyard. The film’s pace picks up when his mentally unstable research assistant, Dr. Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), attempts suicide, then struggles to murder Hess with the dagger. After stabbing Green, Hightower, shocked by his own actions, kills himself. Green then comes back to life with an addiction to blood.

Green first tries to feed his new habit by stealing from blood banks. But he soon begins preying on call girls and single, poor women of color. In these scenes, Lee explores both the class divisions among African-Americans and the “by any means necessary” demons of addiction.

When he meets his late assistant’s egotistical British widow, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams), he takes it upon himself to grant her eternal life. The relationship between their quest for love and blood is shaky, and the film doesn’t explore below the surface of their internal struggle with their immortal selves. The chemistry between Williams and Abrahams as Hess and Ganja is questionable, for Abrahams leans toward passion and Williams solitude.

Spike Lee raised over $1.4 million in his first Kickstarter funded film.(David Shankbone/Creative Commons)
Spike Lee raised over $1.4 million in his first Kickstarter funded film. (David Shankbone/Creative Commons)

Given its low budget, “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” was shot in only 16 days. Yet, Lee’s cinematography with the crisp shots of the Vineyard and the Gatsby feel of the characters is impeccable, and the musical score by Bruce Hornsby is fresh, original and true to Spike Lee’s joints (what Lee calls his films).

However, there is a lot of blood. If the sight of slimy, maroon goop sparks nausea, this film may not be for you. The violent scenes almost cross the line of literally triggering nightmares and it drags in spots. Cutting the running time from 120 to 90 minutes would have been a good move. But the film’s dreamy feel whirls you into Lee’s attempt to be thought-provoking in his first foray into the horror genre.

With “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” Lee continues his quest to push the limits and experiment with new concepts.

Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” has been premiering at select theaters. It is also available to rent or purchase online via iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, YouTube and Vimeo. Not rated, but contains violence and inappropriate language for minors. Find more information here.

Photo at top: Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” reimagines Bill Gunn’s “Ganja and Hess.” (Film Website)