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“DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS” (Movie Review)

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Spike Lee has been somewhat cryptic—though not exactly reticent—in expressing his unhappiness over the studio meddling he strongly suggests marred his vision for his reworking of Park Chan-wook’s landmark OLDBOY a couple years back. Not for nothing, it seems, was the ultra-brutal revenge thriller dubbed a “Spike Lee Film” rather than a “Spike Lee Joint.”

Those skeptics inclined to believe such complaints are merely after-the-fact revisionism designed to explain away less-than-stellar box office will have this worldview seriously shaken by DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, a bold, dreamlike, deliciously strange spiritual successor to/“reimagining” of Bill Gunn’s esoteric 1973 cult classic GANJA & HESS. Lee, who self-financed the movie through Kickstarter—where he impishly/hilariously pitched the project as “A new kind of love story (and not a remake of BLACULA)”—takes full and complete ownership, with arresting results.

DASWEETBLOODOFJESUSREVWhich is to say, DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (currently in theaters and available on VOD) is no Gus Van Sant/PSYCHO frame-by-frame job. The narrative framework (an anthropologist, here played by Stephen Tyrone Williams, inherits vampirism from an ancient dagger and couples up with his first victim’s widow, portrayed by Zaraah Abrahams) remains, as do the overarching themes: the allure and danger of discipleship, ancient curses transported to the modern world, bloodlust, the sometimes perilously thin line between sex-as-an-animal-act and primitive violence, addiction, love amidst the ruins and the power and peril of true outsider status. But all of this is translated through a filter that leaves no doubt whatsoever that it was conceived and executed by the true auteur behind such modern American classics as SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X.

Lee clearly revels in his freedom here, transporting the setting to a lush Martha’s Vineyard locale, creating a wholly immersive, otherworldly pace and vibe—check out that Mamet-with-a-Lee-swagger dialogue—spiked with frequent, bracing salvos of explicit sex, pitch-black humor and unadulterated violence. It is a simmering, volatile chess match between beauty and the beast that ultimately delivers no clear winner, but plenty of fodder for disquieting, unsettling thought.

By taking such a challenging, potentially audience-limiting path, Lee has honored the late director Gunn in the best possible way: DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS is as much a homage to undiluted, unrestrained, no-brown-nosing, film-as-a-path-to-greater-truths moviemaking as it is a reimagining of GANJA & HESS. And it also demonstrates that Lee has a whole lot more rabble-rousing and cinematic trailblazing left in him.

Let us know when the Kickstarter campaign to help Lee and Josh Brolin remake the OLDBOY remake launches. We’re in.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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