Spike Lee has followed one remake ("Oldboy") with another, the decidedly more personal, Kickstarter-funded "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus," a close rendering of Bill Gunn's 1973 hallmark of black independent cinema, the vampiric love story "Ganja & Hess."
Moneyed loner Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams), drawn to ancient African art, invites a research colleague to his Martha's Vineyard beach house. Stabbed with a cursed artifact by his suicidal visitor, Hess develops a thirst for blood he intellectually labels an addiction.
When the dead colleague's flinty, beautiful wife, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams), shows up, the pair begins an all-consuming, transformative and murderous love affair that leaves crimson-hued pools in its wake.
Hewing to Gunn's metaphoric tale of assimilated urban blacks turned destructive through social separation and torn cultural and religious affiliations, Lee shows obvious affection for a fellow provocateur. It makes his often violent, erotic, convulsively music-scored update more congregation response to Gunn's pulpit call than mere redo.
But while this return to indie roots frees up Lee's often gifted image making, his usual pace issues and penchant for jagged flourish over sustained feeling keep it from achieving a rich, strange, sexy and sad whole. There's an imbalance in his leads, as well, with Williams' overly mannered Hess no match for Abrahams' textural, magnetic, exquisitely turned Ganja.
"Da Sweet Blood of Jesus."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.