Review: Satrical horror comedy 'Bad Hair' sports uneven look
Courtesy of Hulu
Equal parts social commentary and satire, Justin Simien’s horror/comedy “Bad Hair” has plenty to say in regards to cultural norms surrounding Black women and their luscious locks, but manages to slip in cheesy, B-movie carnage that could have been plucked from the late ‘80s early ‘90s. Such back and forth doesn’t always mesh with the overall tone of what Simien tries to put out, though you can’t knock “Bad Hair” for trying. There's strong messaging about countless hard working Black women who are consistently held back from advancement opportunities in favor of their light-skinned co-workers who can afford that expensive dress or get their hair done at the fancy salon.
As you can probably assume based on the title, the horror fixation that’s the main prop for gory mutilations is hair, with a focus on pinch braid extensions in the 1980s. Simien - the creator of “Dear White People” - uses hair as a metaphor for black culture. You can either have the weave and flaunt it or show yourself the door, which by the end of the second act takes on multiple meanings.
Part of the reason some of the scares and moves feel so dated is that it takes place primarily in 1989. “Bad Hair” centers on aspiring producer Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) hustling in Los Angeles, trying to break into the world of music television. She’s worked as an executive assistant for years, her rent is long overdue following the recent arrival of white folk who hiked up the value, and is now fighting for her job because longtime boss, Edna (Judith Scott) has decided to part ways with the network and programming will be overseen by Zora (Vanessa Williams).
Zora certainly sees the potential Anna brings to the table but doesn’t waste time suggesting she could use some touch ups and points her towards Virgie (Laverne Cox), a hairstylist known for turning damaged hair into gold. Thanks to an opening prologue surrounding a traumatic childhood incident, we understand why Anna has always been trepidatious about fixing her weaves. In fact, during her appointment, she passes out from the pain only to awaken to long, straight, locks. She’s given strict instructions to not get the hair wet and put on a special ointment each day until it stops hurting and is sent home.
The new-look becomes an instant hit the following day, earning Anna more glares and respect among her peers. But as she quickly learns, the benefits have major consequences, and not only does her goals shift, it’s discovered her extensions thrive on flesh. There are entire sequences where the hair takes on a mind of its own and murders folks relentlessly, a disappointing detour from the excellent world-building that took place in the first 45 minutes.
It’s a tonal change that undercuts the perception of the entire film. Main characters are killed for laughs, the mythology of this crazy hair, or who the hell Virgie is don’t come to fruition, and it’s never clear why the hair grows to the lengths it does with broad terminology thrown around as obligatory reference points. The final fifteen minutes range from bat-shit crazy to sheer ridiculousness, and while it’s essentially a spoof of the genre, the signals that radiated throughout the film suggested a smarter, leaner, movie was waiting in the wings. You could imagine my surprise when “Bad Hair” turned into the exact horror movie it was initially mocking.
Still, “Bad Hair” has an incredible ensemble worth championing and enough scary movie jolts to justify its existence throughout the Halloween season. It won’t linger too long, and the afterthoughts are mild at best, but thanks to some interwoven subtext around race and the occasional comic zinger, you won’t hate yourself for giving it a look. Apply gently.
BAD HAIR debuts on Hulu Friday, October 23rd