Bad Hair is a film about a young woman, Anna, who has been trying to break into hosting on an MTV like network. Though, because she is a Black woman who wears her hair naturally, she's finding many roadblocks along the way. She takes the advice of her new boss and goes to the salon to get a hair weave sewn in. Anna finds that people are more interested in her and her ideas with her new hairdo, but something's wrong. The hair begins to take over and thirst for blood. The film stars Elle Lorraine, Jay Pharoah, James Van Der Beek, Ashley Blaine Featherston, Lena Waithe, Yaani King Mondschein, Kelly Rowland, Usher Raymond IV, Judith Scott, Chanté Adams, Daheli Hall, Laverne Cox, Blair Underwood, and Vanessa Williams. The film is written and directed by Justin Simien. The film is streaming exclusively on Hulu.
The most horrifying elements of Bad Hair aren't the kills, the blood, or the possessions, it's the real life processes that go into hair. The opening scene is a perfect example of the heightened aspect of a regular process as Anna and Linda attempt to relax Anna's hair. Relaxer is made of harsh, deadly, and toxic chemicals and Bad Hair shows a worst case scenario of what can happen if improperly applied. Then there's a prolonged scene of Anna's weave being sewn in with the tight braids and needles threading the hair into the scalp. Body horror is usually where I draw the line and pass, but the most uncomfortable part of this horror is knowing it's the real process.
I like that amidst the horror of beauty is Justin Simien's incredible sense of humor. Bad Hair often descends into camp horror, but with the sensibilities of someone who knows exactly how to riff on the horror aspects and make them silly and scary. I found myself in a laughing, then cringing, laughing, then cringing wave throughout.
I also loved that Simien and cinematographer Topher Osborn chose to shoot the movie on film for that grainy '80s look and feel. The two of them also brought in those campy horror zooms, the high and low angles, and the circular pans. Simien is a very stylized director who is meticulous in his craft. That attention to detail is astounding on top of the well crafted script.
Like many Black horror films that have come before it, Bad Hair is steeped in the shared horror of all Black Americans. The story has its roots in the history and brutality of slavery. I like that Anna's uncle Amos is steeped in the lore and legends of the past. It brings a new light to what is going on and why it's going on. It's such a staple of the genre to build a legend and Bad Hair's legend is a rich one.
Though, I will say that the style and humor leave me without getting more heart out of the film. I didn't feel a deeper connection to Anna or any of the characters. It isn't because I couldn't identify with any of them or their struggles, I just couldn't see beyond their struggles to the people they were and are meant to be. It felt like a lot of the film kept me at arms length, which in the horror aspect isn't a bad thing, but I wanted to empathize rather than sympathize and the film rarely lets me do that.
I am expecting we will be seeing much more of Elle Lorraine in the future. She was able to make me feel every poke of the needle and every yank of the hair. She is able to balance the uncomfortable executive assistant with the much more confident and powerful associate producer. She slips into your consciousness and nestles until she's ready to shine. It's a very physical performance that she pulls off well.
It's rare to find a horror film that can make my skin crawl so much and yet get me to laugh so hard. Bad Hair is able to pull off that balancing act with a great deal of style. I also like that it's an '80s period piece that neglects to poke fun at the fashions and trends of the time because that gets old really quickly. If you want a good scare and a good laugh, seek out Bad Hair for your weekend viewing.