Last Friday, the horror-comedy film “Bad Hair” was released on the digital streaming platform Hulu. Directed by Justin Simien of “Dear White People” renown, “Bad Hair” remains faithful to the horror genre just in time for Halloween, while also tackling the tangled mess that is hair texturism within the black community. While its social commentary shines through as somber yet comedic, the film is muddled by the plot’s shabby pacing and poor realization of its otherwise poignant themes.
Newcomer Elle Lorraine stars as the film’s protagonist Anna Bludso, a Black woman with a complicated relationship with her hair. After suffering a botched relaxer hair-straightening treatment as a young girl, Elle is apprehensive to manipulate her afro-textured hair in a 1980’s setting where Eurocentric beauty standards reign supreme. As she is employed at a White-dominated music television station that is clearly parodic of the era’s MTV, the pressure of racism, sexism and its accompanying hair discrimination is thrust upon Elle as she struggles to both pay the bills and advance in her workplace. As the very fitting “The Look” by Roxette plays in the background (“She’s got the look / What in the world can make a / Brown-eyed girl turn blue?”), Elle’s co-workers question the Europeanized standards their more upwardly mobile station co-stars embody.
“Is that a new nose?” one questions, and the other responds, “Contouring and contacts, maybe.”
When the station division undergoes a retool, Anna is given the ultimatum of “fixing” her hair or possibly losing her job there. With no other options left, Anna has her first sew-in weave installed. The scene is a triumph of the film’s sound effects and grotesque artistry, as one cannot help but recoil in humorous disgust at the squishy viscera of the salon process. Anna is treated so differently with her new “good hair” in a way she says is like “Halloween” as she resultantly excels career-wise and is praised by both her peers and superiors. However, Anna starts getting nightmares and noticing strange incidents with her hair before realizing that it may have some ideas of its own.
Though the idea of hair coming to life is in itself a cause for hilarity and terror, the film’s high-concept is not executed to its highest potential. The hair’s animation is explained by way of old slave lore that delves deep into the supernatural but fails to fully address its heavy historical and racial implications despite the film’s obvious attempt at social commentary; the lack of explanation is handwaved with a falsely deep, “Conquerors don’t write much about the people they conquer.” The pacing is poor: there is a sluggish build-up to the film’s actual conflict, yet its climax is abrupt and messy. Characters are killed off before audiences are given the chance to
care about their fates, though comedienne Lena Waithe’s comic performance shines in a sea of otherwise painfully bland characters.
Still, “Bad Hair” leans heavily into its high-concept and campy nature rather than its plot for entertainment. If the satire of hair politics is all it takes to arouse your interest, then “Bad Hair” is the film for you. If you are seeking a cohesively stimulating viewing experience, look elsewhere.