“Entertaining, in that singularly unique Spike Lee way.”
Spike Lee is a fascinating director, for better or for worse. By which I mean, the trip isn’t always the most leisurely, though if you’re prescient enough to see where he’s trying to take you, you find yourself the better for it.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, the movie that he financed via Kickstarter, is no different. One of the first things you notice, besides the initially stilted-sounding dialog, is how oddly paced the movie is. It’s not that it’s rushed, but Lee doesn’t spend much time on details that at first seem relatively small, though typically end up defining characters in ways that add to their three-dimen-sionality. A prime example of this tendency is Dr. Hess Green’s (Stephen Tyrone Williams) journey into vampirism (via being stabbed by an Ashanti sacrificial knife, which is nothing if not novel).
What’s interesting is that Green was arguably a vampire long before he began to actually ingest blood. He lives in a tony home on Martha’s Vineyard, purchased from money his grandparents earned as the founders of the first black brokerage firm, while as a vampire he makes regular trips into the poorer sections of New York, to sate his hunger for blood, be it blood banks or single mothers.
It’s a fascinating dichotomy that I wish that the movie had spent more time on.
In fact, considering that Lee barely touches on the life of his main character, imagine how those not-quite-so main characters fare? Not too good, though to have the audacity to name a character ‘Ganga Hightower,’ (Zaraah Abrahams) almost, but not quite, makes up for it.
There’s a scene about midway through the movie where he preys on a single mother in what looks like Harlem and returns later in the movie to find that she’s returned from the dead, unintentionally revived. The scene was potentially horrific; I write ‘potentially’ because the outcome is only hinted at, and not allowed to play out fully.
Which only reinforces my belief that Spike Lee doesn’t particular care about horror, be it vampirism or any other variation on the genre.
The monsters that he’s most comfortable with are those of the human psyche; the monsters of intolerance, or racism, which in this particular instance is a pity, because there’s a lot that happens on screen that’s could be more more horrific if it were allowed to breath, so to speak.
I was unaware Bruce Hornby did soundtrack work, but he’s pretty good here. The music ranges from jazz, pop to rap and is a welcome reprieve from exclusively orchestral soundtracks, which have an irritating tendency to tell you how to feel, often doing the movie’s job for it.
Lee is best when he let’s his camera act as as witness to unfolding events, not so much when he puts words into characters’ mouths, which often comes off as pedantic. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus isn’t necessarily the vampire film that I would make if given the chance, and that’s okay because Lee’s voice is his own, and we’re all richer for it.
Before you drink from that glass of rich, red, oddly viscous liquid, swirl it around and make sure that it’s actually wine because Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is potent and it’s on Netflix.