If, by chance, you've been compiling a list of the least commercial films of all time, you'll have a new title for consideration this weekend: Spike Lee's Kickstarter-funded "joint": Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. It opens Friday exclusively at the Cedar Lee. To say that Lee's latest, weirdest and most mannered production, a remake of Bill Gunn's 1973 Ganja and Hess, is anti-commercial isn't to say that it's entirely without merit. It's bad for sure, but the most striking thing about it, as you endure a two-hour run time that feels way more like six, is the utter absence of a "target audience." Its closest genre may in fact be soft-core porn.
But will it appeal to porn lovers? Almost certainly not. The film revolves around one Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams), a historian and heir who becomes addicted to blood when he's stabbed by an ancient African tribal dagger used in ritual bloodletting. (That scene's a head-scratcher.) Green seduces his prey, kills them, and then typically licks their blood off his hardwood floors before vomiting it back up all over Martha's Vineyard (it's tough to get used to the blood), where he is attended hand and foot by servants. Lee has been insistent on not calling his protagonists "vampires," probably for marketing reasons, but rest assured that that's exactly what they are.
So will it appeal to horror buffs? The Twilight crowd? Again, sadly, no. Though one or two grisly scenes of nipple-tearing and throat-slitting may satiate the gore-seekers, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a slow and solemn treatise. We've been assured in media materials that it's meant to comment on "addiction, blood, sex and status." What that means in practical terms is that the characters speak as if they're reading from dissertation abstracts. When Ganja, the wife of Green's first victim, shows up from Amsterdam and immediately submits to the doctor's charms, eventually becoming vampiric herself, the monologuing drifts into parody.
(It's worth noting that the film has also been called a "love story," a new kind of love story, but Ganja doesn't show up until about minute 38). So probably not a solid first date flick? Absolutely not. And what about the casual mainstream moviegoer? Steer clear.
Film students? Film students could certainly generate some important talking points: the success of Daniel Patterson's camera work, for example, or the jaunty obtrusiveness of the score, or the exhilarating title sequence — a Spike Lee staple — featuring a mesmerizing dancer in venues across New York City. Or even the budget. With kickstarter funds totaling $1.25 million, the film is far away superior, on a technical level, to last year's Miss Meadows, another bad, genre-less grad-thesis film with horror elements. Unless there's a hidden population within the niche subset of fetishistic faux-intellectuals in Cleveland who are also into vampires, urban fiction and really into Spike Lee, count on this one to be gone after a week.