A ‘horror romantic comedy film’ is not the kind of phrase that screams marketable (or even feasible as a coherent story, really), but that’s exactly what Spike Lee set out to create in his new film "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus."
Lee turned to Kickstarter to raise the majority of the film’s budget, pulling in more that $1.4 million in the end (more than his $1.25 million goal), reaching out directly to his loyal fans. He shot the film last fall, sharing fun and idiosyncratic status updates to his Kickstarter fans/funders with lines like, "You Will Be Proud To Say ‘I Helped Get Dat Spike Lee Joint Made’. And Dat’s Da Honest Truth, Ruth." (Capital lines from the original, of course.)
The reviews are in, and they are…well, polarized. Some find "Da Sweet Blood" fun in its simultaneously silly and serious tone, some found it impossible to follow–nearly all mentioned that it is somewhat messy. Here’s a look at some of the first reactions.
The picture can expect almost zero support from horror buffs. Yet it is gory enough to alienate more mainstream audiences as well, and its sexualized take on the material elicited some snickers even from this highly sympathetic festival crowd. This is an even less commercial film than Lee-helmed flops like She Hate Me and Red Hook Summer; while its controversial Kickstarter-enabled production means few investors will be left crying, it seems destined to be a footnote in the director’s filmography.
“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” is at once too much and yet somehow not enough. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see the always envelope-pushing Lee working without a studio- or distributor-imposed safety net (though he has typically enjoyed a high level of creative freedom even on his studio-backed projects). But while the film never lacks for ambition, it fails to satisfy emotionally or intellectually in the ways Lee intends. Both Williams and Abrahams give it their all, but never convince as an actual lovestruck couple in the way the great Duane Jones (“Night of the Living Dead”) and Marlene Clark did in Gunn’s film.
All over the place, inarticulate and gravely goofy at time, the fine line between laughing with Lee and laughing at Lee’s movie is certainly blurred. Ultimately, for all its semi-weighty spiritual and societal concerns, "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" is an extremely difficult movie to take seriously and might be the closest we’ve seen to this director making a student film in public. Thematically, it’s also all too on the nose. Any allusions to addiction as part of society’s current ills are hamfisted (and delivered in overt, spelled-out monologue).
The transformative nature of blood has inspired deep thinkers of theology as well as the crass schlockmeisters of cheap-o horror. For Spike Lee, his newest picture Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a hearty gulp from both glasses.