Written and directed by Justin Simien, in 1989 an ambitious young woman gets a weave in order to succeed in the image-obsessed world of music television. However, her flourishing career may come at a great cost when she realizes that her new hair may have a mind of its own. Starring: Elle Lorraine, James Van Der Beek, Lena Waithe, Yaani King Mondschein, Jay Pharoah, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Vanessa Williams, Usher and Kelly Rowland.
A film like this is always going to have a huge focus on style, it’s all about creating the right atmosphere to be slick and clever about how uncomfortable you can make your audience but Simien struggles to hit the right note. The directorial style feels like a play on a lot of other recent horrors, it lacks confidence or consistency, as well as a tone of its own. It has the unusual combination of going over the top and feeling timid, it doesn’t leave anything to the imagination and yet there’s something about it that feels like it’s holding back. One of the key problems with its style that becomes more apparent as time goes on, and is a common one with films like this, is that it takes itself too seriously and forgets that horror is first and foremost about entertainment. It simply doesn’t have fun, there was so much opportunity to play with this story but it chose a more sombre tone instead which is disappointing, there’s no room for a satisfying experience.
Simien’s writing similarly struggles, there’s little build up of tension or suspense. It moves at a surprisingly slow pace, the situation it puts Anna (Lorraine) in is too overt, there’s nothing more to learn so for a long time it’s fairly drawn out then tries to massively up the stakes but it’s too late to make an impact. It feels unclear what it’s truly trying to achieve, granted it will get under your skin but that’s not enough to drive a film and there’s no clear goal pushing it forward. A lot of the elements are simply too easy, yet there was a huge opportunity to explore the experience of Black women, to tell the story from their perspective and that doesn’t happen. The resolution is similarly oversimplified, it’s so easy that it’s then just a frustrating assumption that not a single one of them could have figured it out sooner. Its score plays out like a good old-fashioned horror meets thriller and yet it’s not matched by the story or style.
There’s a great cast at work here, starting with feature newcomer Elle Lorraine as Anna, she gives a great performance, it’s vulnerable and conflicted but the way the story moves, cuts off some of her sympathetic edge along the way. You’ve then got Lena Waithe who is wonderful and criminally underused in this role, the same goes for Yaani King Mondschein, it would have been great to see more from her here. Vanessa Williams gets a bit more of a bite and brings her usual confidence, wit and sharp teeth. You also have: Judith Scott, Kelly Rowland, Blair Underwood, Michelle Hurd, Chanté Adams, Laverne Cox and Nicole Byer, now that is a phenomenal list of actors and yet, again it feels like none of them really get their time to shine which is another disappointing element.
Bad Hair is an interesting concept but the way that its pieces are put together don’t fulfil that potential. The style is lacking in confidence, it’s too obvious and is missing anything distinctive. There’s nothing too complicated, mysterious or layered happening so the story quickly becomes transparent, struggling to scare or to build tension and suspense. It’s a story filled with strong Black women and yet it feels like it didn’t do them justice, or really attempt to sincerely portray their experience. Overall, it feels rather aimless, to do a story such as this and get a little wild but not try to make it fun or satisfying because it’s taking itself too seriously, is disappointing.