Has no real narrative impetus and mistakes a laidback filmmaking style for meaning-making, this modern ‘Ganja and Hess’ remake by Spike Lee is a turn-off.
Dir. Spike Lee
2014 | USA | Drama/Romance/Horror | 123 mins | 2.35:1 | English
R21 (edited) for sexual scenes and violence
*The uncut version was reviewed
Cast: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek
Plot: Dr. Hess Green becomes cursed by a mysterious ancient African artifact and is overwhelmed with a newfound thirst for blood. Soon after his transformation, he enters into a dangerous romance with Ganja Hightower that questions the very nature of love, addiction, sex, and status.
International Sales: ICM Partners
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
This modern remake of the cult movie, Ganja and Hess (1973), is one of Spike Lee’s worst career moments. It is so bad that his inexcusable remake of another cult film, Oldboy (2013), suddenly feels like a great work in comparison.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus begins with an opening titles sequence that seems to go on and on, accompanied by gentle piano music that might lull one to sleep. It is, however, an accurate indication of how the film is going to be for the next two hours—uninteresting, lethargic and slow in all the wrong ways.
It is amazing to witness how a talented and important filmmaker like Lee could render an intriguing plot that explores themes of addiction, romance and death through the guise of unorthodox vampirism and black superiority, so dull and unstimulating.
Lee mistakes his laidback filmmaking style here for meaning-making, as if dialogue, characterisation and symbolism (particularly of blood and religion) can be willed at any time to create narrative impetus.
The best part of the film is a hymn-singing sequence set in a church that comes late on—it is possibly the only time I could feel something from the filmmaking.
Lee doesn’t make us care for the main characters, and any action or reaction from them seems hollow. But at least there’s pre-Bohemian Rhapsody Rami Malek, who plays a butler whose quizzical look throughout the film is hilarious because he seems to ask a very important question: why the f— am I here?