Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
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Director Spike Lee is known for making statements and pushing boundaries. He’s tackled history, heists, and a wide variety of social issues. But his latest film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, tackles an issue that most fans wouldn’t expect him to tackle: vampirism. And the result is fittingly perplexing.

Lee’s Kickstarter-funded vampire movie, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, stars Stephen Tyrone Williams as Dr. Hess Greene, a renowned expert in ancient African art and artifacts. After his unstable colleague, Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), stabs him with one of his artifacts, Dr. Greene finds that he’s been cursed with a thirst for blood—just like the ancient tribe from which the artifact originated.

Eventually, Dr. Greene comes to terms with his affliction and is able to find ways to satisfy his cravings. But when he falls in love with his colleague’s ex-wife, Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), he beings to consider the dangers of his addiction.

Based on the 1973 blaxploitation film, Ganja & Hess—and co-written by the film’s writer/director, Bill Gunn—Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is far from the same old vampire movie. It isn’t about moody teenagers, and it isn’t loaded with B-movie campiness. It also doesn’t have the same funky retro vibe that you might expect from a ‘70s blaxploitation remake. In fact, apart from a few awkwardly humorous moments that feel completely out of place, it’s a deathly-serious film. And that’s a missed opportunity—because a film like this one could (and should) be quirky and fun instead of taking itself so very seriously.

The characters, meanwhile, are generally unlikable. Dr. Greene is stiff and wooden and strangely formal, while Ganja is every bit as cold and cruel as her suicidal ex-husband once described her. Really, the only likable character here is butler Seneschal (Rami Malek), whose smirking formality suggests that he’s well aware of the insanity of it all. But, unfortunately, he’s such a small part of the film that he can’t save it from becoming the perplexing mess that it is.

Of course, this being a Spike Lee Joint, there are plenty of deeper underlying messages about things like addiction, sex, religion, and race—but what he’s trying to say here is anybody’s guess. And since these messages are contained within such a strange and over-serious package, few viewers will care enough to attempt to figure it all out.

Through the years, Spike Lee has directed a number of remarkable films—but this low-budget vampire remake isn’t one of them. It’s odd and awkward and sometimes just plain dull—not an especially sound investment for those who contributed to his crowd-sourcing campaign.

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