Seven months after its festival premiere, Spike Lee’s Kickstarter-financed vampire movie “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” is now available on Vimeo. A loose remake of Bill Gunn’s “Ganja & Hess,” “Da Sweet Blood” will be in theaters on February 13, but it’s getting a month-long spin on demand first, which based on the reviews so far is more likely to chill demand for the film than stoke it. A few critics spoke out for the film after its first screening, but so far the only proper reviews are almost uniformly negative. (We’ve added a few of their post-screening tweets at the end for balance’s sake.) Lee’s dedicated fans — the ones who aren’t already entitled to an online screening as part of the Kickstarter campaign — will surely want a look, but the rest may be able to resist their thirst for “Blood.”
Reviews of “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”
Jordan Hoffman, Guardian
Shot on a shoestring budget (and partially crowdfunded through Kickstarter) this tale of hemato-addicted lovers has a few gross-out moments, but is more interested in stylized, jazzy performances set in manicured interiors with a high-definition snap than it is in jump scares. While the story could be reduced to a standard slasher of the VHS era, Lee’s presentation is rooted in European arthouse cinema, resulting in a peculiar film that may be uneven, but is too unique and enjoyable to dismiss.
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
It’s a startlingly incompetent film, suggesting that we’ve reached a point where Lee’s instincts as a filmmaker — so unimpeachable a quarter century ago — have abandoned him entirely. Lee swings wildly from blood-splattered gore to buck-naked sex (every woman in it goes topless, obviously) to Biblical quotation to soapy melodrama, hoping to spackle over the whiplash-inducing tonal shifts with generous applications of Bruce Hornsby’s pushy score and an endless supply of wildly inappropriate pop songs.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
With “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” Lee consolidates some of the best attributes of both recent efforts to make a mild return to form. A relatively faithful remake of the under-seen 1973 black horror classic “Ganja & Hess,” it doesn’t match that movie’s rich treatment of African-American identity, and suffers from some distracting, amateurish qualities associated with the performances and script. But it successfully funnels some of its best ideas through a filter of New York attitude and rage against a society riddled by addiction and socioeconomic problems. In essence, no matter the source material, it’s a Spike Lee joint.
Scott Foundas, Variety:
“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.
Rodrigo Perez, the Playlist
Nothing about “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” is remotely subtle. Lee’s dealbreaking problem is the movie wants to be everything at once, and thus its tenor is disastrously incoherent and inconsistent. Equal parts self-serious drama with religious overtones, overwrought melodrama/romance, silly comedy and horror movie, tone is a serious problem for Lee’s picture; imagine Napoleon playing a drunken game of RISK, that’s how all over the map it is. Lee attempts to further explore ideas of absolution, belief, redemption, and the spiritual longing evinced in “Red Hook Summer” but as filtered through a decidedly B-movie lens—gratuitous gore, violence and especially nudity—this negotiation of genre and theme never connect in any meaningful way.
Nick Newman, the Film Stage
“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” is Spike Lee’s freest-feeling endeavor in a spell, the full-forced reminder that, after years divided by safe hits (“Inside Man” and, yes, “Oldboy”) and personal duds (“Miracle at St. Anna,” the aforementioned “Red Hook Summer”), he’s yet to lose sight of how both the personal and the lively might flow together. Weighed with regard to a place amongst the Lee canon, it stands as a work equally divided by divergences and conformities nevertheless united, forcefully, by a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool insanity.
John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter
Lee says that he hasn’t seen Gunn’s original film in years, but whether by design or coincidence, “Sweet Blood” easily conjures the airless, alternate-reality feel of certain low-budget ’70s indies; its mannered performances and self-conscious monologues feel like nothing in contemporary cinema. They pair oddly with Bruce Hornsby’s wistful, wholesome score, which encourages us to expect a moral message that never really materializes: As allegory, the picture requires viewers to connect most of the dots without assistance, offering a preachy bit of dialogue once or twice but failing to use action or the camera to say much about non-sanguinary addictions.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” throws together many more ideas than it resolves, and it’s roiled by the power of its contradictions. It indulges in the sexual display that it shows to be predatory. It celebrates the beauty of bodies, of black bodies, even as it shows them torn and bleeding. It exalts the vitality and wonder of the traditional African-American Baptist church while hinting at its powers of constraint. The movie is distortedly expressive, almost hermetic in its subjective intensity, as flagrantly symbolic as Gunn’s, with an extra strain of self-doubt and even despair. For all its loose ends and unanswered practicalities, its wild urgency is thrilling. It defies the expectations fostered by Lee’s prior films; it steps back even as it moves inward. It is, in the modern-classic sense, a late film.
Spike Lee’s DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS felt like Neil LaBute by way of Ben Wheatley. Wicked, messy, potent look at lust. Enjoyed the challenge.
— Matt Patches (@misterpatches) June 23, 2014
DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS: ecstatically unsupervised silly/serious hot black vampire Gatsby story of violence disguised as salvation. loved it
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) June 23, 2014