Even when Spike Lee’s films fail, they always have a fascinating quality to them that’s difficult to describe in words. This sensation is apparent as early as the opening credits in Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, which features an oddly earnest sequence of slow-motion break dancers. It’s a vision that, like a lot of interpretive dance, is both excitingly strange and embarrassingly awkward. That compromised tone is relentless for the entirety of the film’s run time, to the point where it’s difficult to say which reaction rules over the other-excitement or discomfort.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is the story of a wealthy black scholar in an all-white community who just happens to be a blood-sucking vampire. Lee is heavy on the vampire genre’s inherent draws: gore, sensuality, religious iconography, and spacious room for metaphor (among others here, he suggests that as the most violent nation in the world, the US is a blood-based society). He also makes room a compelling romance between the central vampire and a no-nonsense woman who says blunt things like “I don’t believe in ‘if’s. If I had two balls & a dick I’d be a bloke. Fuck ‘if’s.” None of these elements ever really come together to form a satisfying whole, though; they just kind float around in individually. The effect is persistently odd.
The oddest aspect of all is that Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is actually a faithful remake of an even more inscrutable film: 1973’s Ganja & Hess. Unfortunately for Lee, Ganja & Hess (although nearly 40 years older) feels like a much more naturally bizarre & experimental, especially in its bold sexuality bucking of racial expectations. In remaking the film, which has a very quiet reputation, Lee has done little but remind the general public that it exists and it is awesome. Capturing Ganja & Hess’s magic in a bottle proved itself difficult and the results are mixed, but at least he’s getting the name of that weird little cult film back out there in the world. Ultimately, though, I would have rather have seen what an original idea for a Spike Lee vampire movie would’ve been instead of a restaging of a film that already worked on its own terms.
Side note: It was super cool to see Felicia Pearson (who played Snoop on The Wire) in a feature film and she delivers the best line uttered by anyone here: “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.” Words to live by, Snoop. Now if every movie producer out there could start casting her in everything they make ASAP I would be much obliged.