Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

Year: 2014
Production Co: 40 Acres and Mule Filmworks
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Spike Lee/Vinmi LaRocksta
Cast: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek

I remember hearing about how Spike Lee was going to crowdfund a movie on Kickstarter (which seemed to be the beginning of the end of it being a scrappy, start-up type operation for hobby creators – if A list Hollywood directors were getting in on the action, what chance did the rest of us have?), and this is it.

Hess (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is apparently – it's never made completely clear – an art and artifacts collector who's incredibly wealthy after the money, mansion and Martha's Vineyard island his stockbroker parents have left him.

His latest find is a dagger from an ancient African civilisation, but after a weird night in his mansion with a museum colleague, Lafayette, a fight breaks out and Hess is stabbed with the dagger.

Lafayette subsequently shoots himself in the head and when Hess wakes up he finds not only that he has a compulsion to drink the blood oozing out of his former friend’s body, but that he can't take normal drink or food anymore, apparently having been turned into a vampire by the dagger.

After dispatching a few victims and staying under the radar as a murderer, Hess is visited by Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams), Lafayette's estranged wife who's gunning for her ex because of money he owes her.

Hess is captivated by her beauty, and when she agrees to stay he turns the charm on her, eventually seducing her to his lifestyle and turning her too. So begins the couple's new lifestyle, which includes a quick lesbian affair between Ganja and an old flame of Hess's and Ganja's undeserved hatred of Hess' loyal manservant, Seneschal (Rami Malek).

For some reason (and one the emotionless performance from Williams does nothing to explain), he decides he's tired of being immortal, visiting a Brooklyn church where a sermon moves him to such heights of ecstasy he goes home to his island to wallow in a pique of apparent religious repentance.

The first problem with the whole thing is that the plot is nonsensical. Almost nothing anybody does is the consequence of visible cause or effect and you're left constantly wondering why people think, do or say what they do.

But the bigger problem for a movie with a minimum of straightforward plot is that the sense of style is all over the place as well.

I since read that Lee solicited music from unsigned artists on social media for the movie and while some of the music is good, Lee liked it all a bit too much. The soundtrack is at-times overbearing, and the music frequently doesn't match the tone of the scene it accompanies. It feels like he's just showcasing music he liked.

It's ostensibly a vampire tale, but Lee's usual subtextual comment about race relations is either absent or inherent in the material to a degree I missed completely.

Instead, there might be parables about gender relations or the gap between rich and poor, but none of it is conveyed clearly enough in a plot that continually stops to delve into extended scenes that have nothing to do with anything else and throw the pacing of the whole thing off.

Lee's worst films (like this one) are still better than many middling studio efforts because he always has a robust point of view, but he's so talented in a general sense it's more of a disappointment when he trips up this badly.

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