Bad Hair, 2020.
Written and Directed by Justin Simien.
Starring Elle Lorraine, Vanessa Williams, Jay Pharoah, Lena Waithe, Blair Underwood, Laverne Cox, Yaani King Mondschein, Michelle Hurd, Judith Scott, Robin Thede, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Steve Zissis, MC Lyte, Zaria Kelley, Corinne Massiah, Kelly Rowland, James Van Der Beek, Usher Raymond, Chanté Adams, Moses Storm, Jon Gabrus, Nicole Byer, and Justin Simien.
In 1989 an ambitious young woman gets a weave in order to succeed in the image-obsessed world of music television. However, her flourishing career may come at a great cost when she realizes that her new hair may have a mind of its own.
It’s a given that a film called Bad Hair about a demonic killer weave is going to delve into camp territory, although writer/director Justin Simien’s fatal misstep here is that he spends so much time repeating the same beat of social commentary, that by the time the experience embraces its horror concept and really starts relishing in 1980s slasher tropes, it’s a little too late, in turn, sucking some of the fun and engagement away from the vicious and violent finale.
The concept here is nothing short of original and a bright-spot talking point no one can take away from the filmmaker. Mixing together folklore and the rising popularity for the weave in regards to Black culture, Bad Hair spins a yarn about an ambitious Black woman working in the realm of musical television, scratching and clawing her way up the ranks for a wide variety of reasons. Naturally, the primary reason is due to being behind on bills, but Anna (Elle Lorraine giving a standout performance selling both the fear from witnessing her murderous hair with a mind of its own while also injecting some passion into the themes of appearance assimilation and cultural appropriation) is directly told that she will have a higher chance of veejaying her own show on the network if she takes on a more presentable and fashionable look.
This is also the best stretch of Bad Hair without accounting for the loony climactic act, as there’s a white executive (James Van Der Beek) putting a new woman in charge of curating the network, a light-skinned Black woman named Zora (Vanessa Williams) in an attempt to get ahead of Black music rising in popularity but with the disingenuous mindset of appealing to everyone, especially white people, instead of something culturally significant. With that said, the 1989 setting is great framework for this narrative and it’s easy to feel enveloped into that era considering the spiffy fashion, hip-hop music videos (Justin Simien wrote some original songs from the movie), and of course, the more specific element of Black life when it comes to watching Anna go through the process of getting a weave (something that is presumably more painful than usual given a childhood accident that comes in the form of a prolonged).
It’s here where it’s palpable that Justin Simien has something to say, but it’s also short-lived as the film takes a detour into a number of side plots ranging from co-workers sleeping their way up the ladder, Anna’s family far too conveniently having an interest in folklore, personal relationships, and plenty of other characters that orbit this working environment. Of those supporting players, Lena Waithe makes the most of her presence, most notably as her comedic timing really comes alive once the horror of the story has taken over and given these characters and actors more freedom to have a blast.
It’s doubly frustrating because the effects of bringing this deadly coiffure to life are well-realized with some gnarly kills. It’s a challenging feat to make death by hair compelling and believable, but Justin Simien gets that job done. Again, the last 30 minutes or so of Bad Hair is relentlessly nutty, perhaps a bit too far away from the social commentary aspect, but there’s at least the sensation of a filmmaker successfully accomplishing one of the things he set out to do.
Bad Hair sadly just doesn’t work as the social statement it’s going for proving to be an assortment of ideas that go nowhere of substance, even with a reduced running time (the film was closer to two hours when it premiered at Sundance, now trimmed to 102 minutes). Nevertheless, it’s also easy to recommend something fresh and bold to take a chance on during Halloween season; maybe you are someone that needs the message here clobbered into your head, and if that’s the case, it’s fortunately bookended by campy thrills.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com