11th May2015

‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’ VOD Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Stephen Tyron Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Joie Lee, Felicia Pearson, Jeni Perillo, Katherine Borowitz, Donna Dixon, Chiz Schultz, Lauren Macklin, Steven Hauck, Stephen Henderson, Rafael Osorio | Written and Directed by Spike Lee

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The respected filmmaker hitting Kickstarter for help phenomenon seems to have died down over the last year or so but along with Zach Braff, Spike Lee was certainly one of the highlights of this short-lived trend. Shaking the virtual tip jar towards a great many people, myself included, he managed to get together a budget of just under $1.5 million, including a $10,000 donation from Steven Soderbergh and so presents us with Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, a somewhat surprise remake of 70’s indie flick Ganja & Hess. Even with my meagre donation, I think it was $10, it’s sad to say that I feel ripped off and I suspect most will.

The question to ask about Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is just why did Lee feel the need to make this film? Having a budget be crowd sourced certainly gives financial independence and Lee has had trouble getting films widely seen over the last few years (yes, Universal handled Oldboy but try finding someone who’s seen Red Hook Summer or Mirace At St. Anna on a big screen). The idea of a director being able to unveil their true vision with these circumstances is certainly a positive one also but frankly, watching this you would have to wonder who would agree to finance it within the film industry anyway.

The warning signs come quickly with a title sequence which shows us some impressive dancing around various spots of Brooklyn an interestingly incongruous opening which 10 minutes in you realise was there for no reason other than the fact that Lee fancied indulging himself. In having no Master with this film, Lee is able to do what he wants so what do we get? A mixture of high camp and solemnity which never manages to decide what it wants to be and just ends up limp on screen. The story itself has some promising elements to it, the set up seeing Dr Hess Greene (Stephen Tyron Williams) become a vampire of sorts after being stabbed with a mystical dagger, and the matter of fact way in which it deals with his transformation is refreshing, he doesn’t really go through any changes, he instinctively understands that he needs to drink blood and just gets on with it.

When the film decides to spend the next hour and a half or so on Hess’ relationship with and ex-colleague’s wife Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams) however, it just falls off a cliff, Ganja’s bitchy front doing nothing to sell anything even close to chemistry with Hess and instead you see the two mope about, have conversations and indulge in 90’s era erotic thriller styled sex scenes for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Williams as Hess has an interesting air of melancholy to him which occasionally threatens to push the film into more varied directions but again, the character feels muddled, on occasion his feelings control him, at others he seems entirely detached from the situations he finds himself in. Williams and Abrahams both feel like they have much better in them but they are hamstrung by the material. Only Rami Malek’s Butler manages to feel consistent, having a subtle line in comic work in his all too brief scenes.

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was shot in 16 days but feels like it could have been shot in a weekend. Lee indulges himself in the worst possible ways making a film which feels like both a pure vision of its filmmaker but also a muddled expression which can’t work out what it wants to be. If the film should be remembered for anything, it should be that Kickstarter can’t be trusted to give its donors something they actually want to see.

*½  1.5/5

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is available now on VOD via iTunes and Google Play.

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