Ever had a day when your hair just isn’t doing what you want it to? This is more or less the premise of Justin Simien’s Bad Hair, which was released on Hulu last month. Simien is no stranger to our screens having been the powerhouse behind the film Dear White People (2014) and it’s younger sibling Dear White People - the TV show.
A satirical horror set in 1989, Bad Hair is completely up my street. As a massive horror fan there’s nothing I love more than one which is so bad it’s good. I love how Simien wholly committed to the era of this film, not just through costume and set design but even with the way in which it’s been shot, think of grainy VHS overlays and overly dramatic pans. And there is a commitment factor to this film that some would call wholly unnecessary (read the awful SFX) but I honestly think it just helps to build the world that Simien has created even more so.
Bad Hair centres around a young Black woman, Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) who works in the entertainment industry and is swayed by her new boss that in order to get ahead in the industry she must change her hair. The film as an entirety touches upon the idea surrounding the ever present discussion of Black women’s hair in and out of the workplace. This is heightened by the initial trauma laid out at the very start of the film. The opening scene is tense to say the least, a much younger Anna (Zaria Kelley) is getting her hair relaxed. And whilst it's not out-rightly horrifying in the traditional sense, it could be deemed traumatic - especially for anyone who had experience with relaxer in their youth or ‘creamy crack’ as it is more commonly known. The tension is only heightened by the abrasive use of sound, a common feature throughout the film's entirety. The uncomfortable sounds of a comb on a dry scalp and swishing hair stay with you from beginning to end.
After this experience Anna proudly wears her hair naturally to the detriment of furthering her career and is told by new boss Zora (Vanessa Williams) that natural hair isn’t going to cut it in her new reinvisioned ‘Culture’ (the entertainment company for which they all work). Zora hands her a card to an exclusive upscale hairdressers Vergie’s (Laverne Cox), of which we get another traumatic scene which sees tender-headed Anna having her hair braided then a weave sewn in. The visceral and goosebump inducing scene is hard to look at and once more plays heavily on the idea of harsh sound to heighten tensions and anxiety being experienced.
Once Anna has her weave sewn in- horrors start to occur. In one scene (I couldn’t quite tell if this was supposed to be funny in some curious way) Anna get’s her period and a tendril of her new ‘do slithers down her body and into her underwear to wick up the blood. But other than the blood thirsting weave Anna is doing well, she gets to host a live programme and people in the workplace appreciate her new look.
Simien's ideas are almost incomplete as the film progresses. The element of folklore seemed to be something we needed to take notice of as an audience but it’s not stressed enough in the first half of the film as opposed to the latter part of the film where folklore seems to be at the heart of the issues surrounding Anna’s killer tresses. There seems to be no real lesson to the story of Simien’s killer weave at the heart of it all, perhaps if ideas surrounding Black hair and the workplace were emphasised more it would have resonated on a deeper level but at the core of it all a killer weave with terrible SFX reads a B-rated horror at best, themes aside.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Bad Hair, I just felt as though Simien pushed one too many themes and topped it off with comedic timing that sometimes felt misplaced by actors such as Lena Waithe. Towards the end of the film, Anna is attempting to run from the killer weave and sees herself stuck in a corridor with Waithe’s character, Brook-Lynne who is given more or less all of their screen time in the last 10 minutes of the film.
The film has been criticised for its approach to dealing with issues that are no joke and unfortunately ever-present in today’s society. Themes including colourism, cultural appropriation and the Black experience in the workplace are ultimately overshadowed by hair which is out for blood and personally this film could’ve starred half the cast and still had the impact Simien intended.
In some ways it feels more like a tv series that has been shoved into film format - the ending calls for a second film or better yet a tv series to be made following Anna after she’s come out as victor, the final girl. That is Simien’s remit after all.