Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
da sweet blood of jesus | spike lee | vinnie larocksta | stephen tyrone williams | zaraah abrahams | rami malek | vampire | vampires | remake | arthouse | ganja and hess | comedy | romance | thriller | united states | elvis nolasco | thomas jefferson byrd | joie lee
Film: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Spike Lee and Vinnie LaRocksta
Starring: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams and Rami Malek
This was a movie that I actually didn’t even know it got made until I checked out the original film from Bill Gunn of Ganja & Hess. I saw trivia that Spike Lee made this movie as a remake of it. I was intrigued as I’ve seen the original a couple of times and it is an odd movie so I wondered what Lee would do with this update to it. The synopsis here an anthropologist awakes with a thirst for blood after an assistant stabs him with a cursed dagger.
For this movie we’re following mostly Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams). He’s the anthropologist from the synopsis and he’s studying the Ashanti tribe. This brings him to a museum in Brooklyn. It is there they have a rare artifact that is a dagger. Hess takes on Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco) to aid him in his research.
What we learn is that this tribe developed a taste for blood when one of their queens came down with a disease. She spread this to her people which sounds like was their downfall. There’s an interesting line between these two men where Hess states that Art is God’s ally where science is his foe. This is interesting as art usually pays homage where on the other side, science attempts to disprove religion. Through their interactions from here, we see that Lafayette is unstable. He tries to kill himself and Hess brings up that if he does, he will ruin Hess’ life as the only black person on the block. It will bring unwanted attention. Hess does talk him down, but in the end, Lafayette kills Hess with the dagger and then commits suicide.
Hess doesn’t stay dead though. He wakes up with a thirst for blood. It also makes him quite sick. Hess steals blood from a local clinic and tries to deal with his new curse. Things become complicated when Hess receives a phone call from Lafayette’s ex-wife of Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams). She is a forward woman that Hess is intrigued by. He invites her to stay with him where he has to finally break the truth of what happened to her husband.
As Hess tries to deal with his thirst for blood, he falls in love quickly with Ganja. The two of them are married and he shares his curse with her. She deals with similar issues to him as she acclimates to her new life, but also to her addiction.
There is where I’m going to leave my recap as that gets you up to speed for this movie. I feel that I should re-iterate here, this is a hard movie to remake in my opinion. The original is quite arthouse and really does a lot with allegories. I do think that Lee is an interesting director to attempt this, especially with how well he does with social commentaries in his movies that I’ve seen. As a black filmmaker, he really knows the plight of his race and I could feel that here in this movie.
That social commentary is where I want to start in this movie. We are really getting a look at the stigma and stereotypes for black people. Dr. Hess is afraid if Lafayette kills himself that will lead to an investigation into him being that he’s a minority living in a neighborhood of white people. When Ganja arrives at the house, she assumes that Hess is the servant to a white man and is shocked to learn her husband worked for him. Hess picks up a couple of women who are prostitutes. One of them I’m not even sure if she does this for a living or does it anymore, but can see he has money so she takes him up to her place. There are also the concerns of AIDS after one of Hess’ victims. How ingrained religion is in the culture despite Hess being a man of science is another aspect. The last one is Tangier Chancellor (Naté Bova). She is interesting to me as she is part black and part Irish. Her skin is very light and she has blue eyes. Ganja recognizes this and compliments on her on it. Tangier makes an interesting statement that no one usually comments, because they cannot get past looking at her body, where Ganja did.
Now none of that is really a social commentary, but establishing the baseline of the world this movie is taking place in. The social commentary that pulls from the original into this would be that Dr. Hess seems to have been assimilated into culture that he wasn’t born into. Ganja doesn’t expect him to own the place that he lives as one part of it. She is straighter forward than he is and we learn she had to be from her upbringing. That story was an interesting one to hear. Hess isn’t as forward though and this does cause some issues between them. Ganja is interesting here as well in that she is rude to the butler of Seneschal Higginbottom (Rami Malek). I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be white or a light skinned minority, but I do think the movie loses a bit with not establishing that. Ganja being rude to him is more impactful if he is minority in my opinion.
There is also the commentary here on addiction. Being that Hess and eventually Ganja are a take on vampires is showing us the realities of addiction. In this case, instead of being smoking, alcohol or drugs, it is blood. It is well known that addiction runs deep in lower income places, which I think that this is an interesting idea to explore. Even more so to show that despite how wealthy Hess is, he cannot escape addiction. It doesn’t look at someone’s standing with money or status. Ganja is a bit wilder, but it is tragic that her husband led her into the blackness that she is now in. I think we’re also seeing how addiction can ruin families as well.
Moving away from the story here, I don’t think this movie is effective as the original. It looks better and I will give credit to Lee. He did take a movie that is more exploitation and grindhouse with how it looked and they did an excellent job of polishing it up. It makes it that more much intriguing though when Hess and Ganja have fallen into addiction by seeing it this way. What I mean here, the movie looks beautiful. There are some really interesting shots and the cinematography is well done. This is an arthouse film in a different way than its predecessor for sure.
Next I think I should move into the acting, which is where I think this one falters. Williams is fine as Hess. He looks the part and I believe him as this anthropologist. He has a modern vibe to him that makes sense and it is even interesting his sexuality gets questioned. The problem that I have is that it seems Lee kept in some of the dialogue from the original and Williams is a bit too stiff on the delivery. It doesn’t feel natural. This happens a bit when he’s interacting with Abrahams as well. I do feel that her performance is well done though. She brings enough attitude to the role of Ganja that is needed. I like Malek in this secondary role here where he takes unjust punishment from Ganja and we can see it wearing on him. Aside from that, the rest of the cast rounds this out for what was needed. I should also comment here that we see Abrahams, Jeni Perillo and Bova nude. They’re all beautiful and have great bodies in their own way.
I believe I’ll move to the effects next. This movie is subtle with the vampire aspects. We don’t get enlarged fangs or anything like that, which does work in its favor to present the idea of addiction. There is some speeding up of the camera that I didn’t really care for. There is also a scene where Hess proves to Ganja of their change with stabbing her repeatedly with the Ashanti dagger. I could have done without that to leave this a bit more ambiguous personally. Aside from that, the blood we get looks really good.
The last thing that I wanted to delve into would be the soundtrack. Lee went with a selection of rap, gospel and what I’m assuming are all artists from New York. I don’t hate what they’re doing here. What was selected seems to fit the feel of the scenes, but I would have enjoyed it more if they would have went with songs without words at times. I also thought the original was more effective with using more tribal music when it comes to some things as well. This isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t work as well in my opinion.
In conclusion, this is an interesting update to allegorical film. Much like the original, I’m not entirely sure if I completely understand everything that we’re getting. I think this movie does a good job at showing the life and fears of black people, but doing so in an interesting way where we are not seeing them as poor people. Dr. Hess is affluent and his wife seems to enjoy certain means. That doesn’t mean they can escape from the curses that encounter here. The movie looks great and I enjoy most of the effects. I do have some issues with the soundtrack along with some of the delivery of dialogue. I don’t think this is as good as Ganja & Hess. I do think this version would be easier to watch for a modern audience. Not a great film in my opinion, but I would say this is still as an above average movie.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10