Bad Hair is a hair-raising horror film, made in true 80s style by the director of ‘Dear White People‘, Justin Simien. He exposes the downright stupidity of the ways people feel the constant need to fit in out of fear of being judged by their peers, while cleverly exposing today’s political climate and other topical issues. The African American culture drips from the screen, while Simien himself climbs up the horror ladder, creating something that’s just as clever as something like Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out‘.
The young Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine – ‘Insecure‘) suffered from a traumatic incident involving her hair. Ever since, she’s been taking care of her own hair – something women have been judging her for her entire life. Not only does her curly hair look stunning, she’s now an ambitious woman who’s ready for the next step in her career. When the L.A. based network she works for gets ready to undergo an entire reorg, to save “Culture” – a channel specifically catering to African Americans – douchey big chief, Grant (James Van Der Beek – ‘Jay And Silent Bob Reboot‘) appoints light skinned former supermodel Zora (Vanessa Williams – ‘Desperate Housewives‘) to start running things. Everyone’s job is on the line, but Zora sees Anna’s potential and gives her the advice to visit a beauty salon that’ll change her life. Once there, magic worker Virgie (Laverne Cox – ‘Orange is the New Black‘) gets Anna a brand new hairstyle – a bloodthirsty weave with its own set of rules.
Bad Hair‘s absurd sounding premise surprisingly works on every single level. Simien downright doesn’t beat around the bush with the messages he’s trying to bring across. The constant judgment, lack of equal opportunities, toxic work-environments, gentrification and stereotypical depictions of black people are some of the issues he successfully weaves into his story. First and foremost, Bad Hair is a horror in the most glorious of ways. The 1989-setting works so well in contrast with the topical issues the USA has been dealing with ever since and still hasn’t completely overcome. To have a horror film of this caliber star an African American woman in the lead and an ensemble that largely consists of talented women, is something you rarely see done so effectively.
Lorraine doesn’t have trouble leading the film. As Anna, she gets to express her ability to adapt to different onscreen personalities in different genres. Even though the film is mainly a horror satire, there’s some romance, drama, comedy and psychological elements to be had. Already iconic names such as Vanessa Williams, Lena Waithe, Judith Scott, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Hurd, Laverne Cox and Nicole Byer (as Anna’s hilarious neighbour), welcome up and coming competent actors with open arms. Each one of them bring a different kind of flair to this unique story that’s filled with soul, superstition, slave lore, witchcraft and folklore.
A cast most of the time makes or breaks a film, but with that already covered, Simien and the crew were also able to make a masterfully looking and sounding film that gives you the feeling of watching it as if you’ve just picked up the VHS from your local Blockbuster Video store. Topher Osborn‘s fresh camerawork and Kris Bower‘s blood-curdling score go hand in hand with the effective lighting and production design that just exhales 80s vibes. And then we haven’t talked about the solid soundtrack, to which Kelly Rowland contributes with some new tunes as Sandra, the Pop Soul Princess. The bloodthirsty weave works itself into Anna’s life as a possessed slasher ready to do what’s necessary to get to the top. The convincing special effects would even make Kayako (‘Ju-on The Grudge‘) ask for her business card.
Simien delivers an exceptionally suspenseful horror satire, with subtle (and not so subtle) political undercurrents, first-rate acting and superlative world building. A hauntingly bewitching slasher that makes you wish today was just a regular bad hair day.
Stream Bad Hair on October 23 only on Hulu
Hulu Review – ‘Bad Hair’
Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), October 12, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 115 min.
PRODUCTION: A Hulu release of a Culture Machine, Sight Unseen Pictures production. Producers: Julia Lebedev (p.g.a.), Angel Lopez (p.g.a.), Justin Simien, Eddie Vaisman (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Leonid Lebedev, Oren Moverman, Alex G. Scott.
CREW: Director/screenplay: Justin Simien. Editing: Phillip J. Bartell, Kelly Matsumoto. Cinematography: Topher Osborn. Score: Kris Bowers.
WITH: Elle Lorraine, Jay Pharaoh, James Van Der Beek, Lena Waithe, Ashley Blaine Featherston, Judith Scott, Vanessa Williams, Kelly Rowland, Usher Raymond IV, Dahéli Hall, Nicole Byer, Laverne Cox, Blair Underwood, Michelle Hurd.