Bad Hair is set to premiere on Hulu on October 23, 2020. The new horror-comedy from Justin Simien takes viewers on an Easter-egg filled ride through the late 80s that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
When Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) was just a girl, she had a bad experience with a home relaxer that left her scalp badly burned and since that time she’s worn her hair natural. All grown up, Anna works at a budding music television station and she wants nothing more than to be an on-air VJ. Her new boss (Vanessa Williams) tells her that will never happen unless she changes her look, including taming her hair to appeal to a wider audience.
Though she’s terrified, she goes to a posh salon where a stylist (Laverne Cox) gives her a new look. Unfortunately for her, that new weave is deadly with a mind of its own and her nightmare is only just beginning.
This is Simien’s first foray into the realm of horror. His previous work includes the award-winning film Dear White People as well as the follow-up series by the same title, and his talents and voice as both a writer and director are on full display here.
So let’s break this down.
Bad Hair works on multiple levels.
First, you’ve got a great body horror film where a woman’s weave actually comes to life and starts killing people in inventive and fascinating ways. Simien manages to craft a believable mythology around this special, diabolical hair and manages to pay homage to his influences while doing something all his own.
Furthermore, he and his crew support what we see on the screen with a sound design that will make your skin crawl.
This is not an overstatement. I’m telling you when Anna sits down in that chair and Virgie goes to work on her, my head actually began to hurt and I felt myself sinking down into my chair. The film uses these same types of soundscapes throughout to underwrite the horror, reminding the audience that sound can sometimes be even more important than visuals in creating discomfort and fear.
Then there’s the level of pure late 80s nostalgia. So many things were changing in 1989. New music, new fashion, and new trends seemed to be happening every single day. Keeping up with them was nearly impossible but everyone tried.
Simien brings it all to life in the lighting, the clothing, and the music, throwing in little nostalgic Easter Eggs–listen closely for all the song lyrics as dialogue throughout the film. If you lived through the 80s, you’ll recognize it all. If you didn’t you might just emerge a fan.
Then there’s the third, and possibly the most potent level. The underlying horror of Bad Hair comes from the real life experience of the African-American community and the beauty standards that have been forced upon them for centuries.
Why is it necessary to “tame” or cover natural hair? Why is it that natural hair isn’t seen for its own unique beauty? Why is it important for your hair to look a certain way–and let’s be real here, for it to adhere to white, European standards–in order to be taken seriously?
All of this is important and its imperative to Simien’s storytelling, especially as the final frames of the film roll before the credits.
Through all of this, Simien’s seriously impressive cast never misses a beat. Lorraine’s Anna is like an open wound as she navigates the new landscape in which she finds herself. She is as much a victim as anyone else around her, and you can feel her desperation as things get out of hand.
Then there’s Vanessa Williams at her cold-hearted, all-business, take-it-or-leave-it best. No one does this better than Williams. She has a way of looking into another person while sharing a scene that just works for this character. She is constantly sizing up everyone around her to make sure she’s still in charge, and believe me when I say she almost always is.
The remainder of the supporting cast is just as strong. Lena Waithe delivers the best one-liners in the film with cool alacrity while Kelly Rowland’s Janet Jackson-styled character practically leaps off the screen and demands that you dance. Laverne Cox, meanwhile, is beautifully ethereal as Virgie, the stylist, and James Van Der Beek oozes smarmy television exec.
Honestly, there are a thousand reasons to watch Bad Hair, and you’ll have your chance on October 23, 2020 on Hulu.