Directed by: Justin Simien
Premise: Set in 1989, an African American woman (Elle Lorraine) works as a producer at a music television channel. In an effort to advance her career, she changes her look by getting a weave and supernatural phenomena begin to occur.
What Works: Bad Hair is a period piece and it captures its era well. The costumes and set design authentically recreate a late 1980s and early 90s look. Unsurprisingly, quite a bit of emphasis is put on the hair styles and the filmmakers effectively connect hair, and specifically black hair, with identity and the way these people present themselves to the world as well as the way they are perceived by their peers. Among the most effective scenes in Bad Hair, and some of the most horrific, are those dramatizing the braiding, threading, and chemical treatment of hair. These sequences create a visceral impression of what black women put themselves through in pursuit of a particular beauty ideal. Bad Hair is a familiar story of a woman compromising herself and being inauthentic to get ahead and the careerist portions of the story are its strongest elements. The office politics among the female employees are presented with nuance and actress Elle Lorraine is quite good in the lead role. We get a sense of her dreams and aspirations and Bad Hair effectively dramatizes the way racially exclusive beauty norms can create professional obstacles.
What Doesn’t: While the media commentary and office politics of Bad Hair are done well, the film is primarily a supernatural horror picture and that aspect is not done successfully. Lorraine’s character discovers that her weave is possessed and other women in her office are haunted. Bad Hair has a novel idea but it isn’t executed well. When the hair starts doing supernatural things, it isn’t visualized in a way that is threatening or spooky. Instead it often looks silly. The story logic of Bad Hair is inconsistent. The idea is that these women’s weaves are taking over their minds and bodies. But the weaves also kill some of the very characters they are attached to. The weave belonging to Elle Lorraine’s character starts to get out of her control but as Bad Hair proceeds to its climax her hair just stops doing anything. The supernatural elements of Bad Hair also sabotage the attempt at social commentary. The early portions of the picture set up interesting tensions between identity and ambition but the horror elements confuse those themes and turn them into a sloppy mess.
DVD extras: Currently available on Hulu.
Bottom Line: The makers of Bad Hair try to create a horror picture that is also satirical but those two elements cancel each other out. The film is confusing and silly in ways that undermine whatever it’s trying to say about race, beauty, and media.
Episode: #828 (November 22, 2020)