Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

Posted by Joel Copling on March 11, 2015

"Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" is certainly an odd bird that doesn't ultimately seem to know what it wants to be but enjoys being an odd bird all the same, and for that, it gets my respect and admiration--even if it's relatively difficult to embrace. A vampire movie that works both as the main article and as an allegory for addiction, the film, hailing from writer/director Spike Lee and based on a play written by Bill Gunn, is also sometimes unimaginably forbidding in its examination of religious fervor. These are characters who likely have no chance of salvation, anyway, and who on Earth or above it would want them?

Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) sits resolute in the congregation of a stereotypically over-the-top Southern Baptist church sermon. Upon leaving, he meets with a colleague, Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), who shows him a rare artifact he came across during his travels: a medical instrument, much like a blade, used by the Ashanti people of ancient Africa long before the first recorded instances of blood transfusions and surgeries. Lafayette later becomes violent in a sequence as blunt as it is shocking and stabs Hess directly in the chest with the instrument, killing him almost instantly and driving the other to suicide.

Unfortunately for the poor man, the instrument holds powers hitherto untested and unknown, and Hess is thrust into a life of immortality--at least, if he can always find the blood of his fellow humans to drink. He develops an addiction to the red stuff, an addiction that only grows stronger when the still-dead man's wife Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams, in what is likely to remain one of the year's finest performances) arrives to finalize divorce proceedings. The two develop an extremely mutual attraction, to say the least, but secrets remain between them until they simply can no longer.

At just more than two hours, the film is a bit long-in-the-tooth, finding second wind just as its second hour is beginning and going on for a bit longer than it needs to. It isn't, admittedly, an issue of shaving anything out of the film's length, so much as it is an issue of needing to tighten the screws a bit. Lee is more in control of his formal elements as a director (The cinematography by Daniel Patterson is adept in capturing both shadow and light, especially in one of the final scenes between Ganja and Hess) than his conceptual ones as a writer (Hess's excursions to get more blood are perhaps one too many). Nevertheless, "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" is a relatively harrowing allegory with which Lee is working--that addiction is addiction is addiction, no matter the object of it, and the addicted are the ones who get the brunt of the suffering.

Film Information

Stephen Tyrone Williams (Dr. Hess Greene), Zaraah Abrahams (Ganja Hightower), Rami Malek (Seneschal Higginbottom), Elvis Nolasco (Lafayette Hightower), Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Bishop Zee), Joie Lee (Nurse Colquitt), Felicia "Snoop" Pearson (Lucky Mays), Jeni Perillo (Sahara Paysinger).

Directed and written by Spike Lee.

No MPAA rating.

123 minutes.

Released in select cities on February 13, 2015.