You can’t shampoo this hairdo from Hell.
Justin Simien’s directorial debut of “Dear White People” was a success at the Sundance Film Festival, and earned a Netflix series for reflecting on the racism and cultures at a prestigious Ivy League college. His next feature, streaming on Hulu, is “Bad Hair,” an African-American horror satire with familiar themes, old-fashioned styles, and original concepts. I didn’t find laughs in the first half, but there are silly moments and a few tickles during the second, so that still constitutes as a horror comedy.
The set-up involving an evil hairdo sounds like something out of “The Twilight Zone,” and for the most part it delivers. Credit goes to both Simien for providing an early 90s theme, and to Elle Lorraine (“Insecure”) for portraying a character with big dreams and big fears. I’ve never heard of this actress before, and I didn’t know who it was when I began watching it, but I’ve found something special inside this actress.
The time is 1989, when we meet Lorraine as a young VJ named Anna, who works at an MTV-like production company (RMV), and has problems with the rent and her hairstyle. Being an ambitious person, she has great ideas to make the station more relatable to viewers. Her idea regards playing songs that the next generation listens to, represent them on TV, and count down their favorites. Her new boss is Zora (Vanessa Williams) hears her idea, and decides to make her an associate producer, if she does something about her hairstyle.
Her only hope is to turn to a hair specialist named Virgie (Laverne Cox) to get a new weave. The process is painful to her, because of how she became tender-headed after a bad childhood experience, but the results are beyond successful. Well, almost successful, because the hair, imported from India, has a mind of its own. It not only kills her landlord (Steve Zissis), after he tries and fails to rape her, but it also makes her more ballsy and consistent in becoming the host of her new show. but mostly, the hair is from Hell, and she is scared to death.
The movie’s all-star supporting cast also consists of Jay Pharaoh as Anna’s flat-topped, on-and-off, RMV star boyfriend , Blair Underwood as her wise, old father, Judith Scott as her former mentor, James Van Der Beek as RMV’s white executive, Lena Waite as a disgruntled co-worker, Kelly Rowland as a snobby pop-star, and Usher as her assistant.
The story isn’t always understandable, but “Bad Hair” serves as a game changer for Simien, considering the fact that he’s taking on a horror Indie such as this. At this point, he’s the independent Jordan Peele, and he does a pretty good job at it. Yes, it’s weird with the hair killing people and it’s familiar with its manipulative bosses and unfaithful boyfriends, but it’s also bold, fun, and gripping. And as an African-American horror film, it has the kind of pay-off that I looked for and missed in “Antebellum.”
I’ve already singled out Lorraine as the lead, but I also enjoyed Williams, Pharaoh, Waite, and Underwood, because of how they present their characters. Williams has the seductive charms of a sinister woman, Pharaoh delivers with his tone, Waite has a funny scene later in the film (almost reminding me of Lil Rem Howery in “Get Out”), and Underwood provides passion and dialogue as the main heroine’s father.
It deserves to find a spot on Hulu for its inspiration from horror classics, as well as its MTV nostalgia, and casting. And you also have to appreciate what you’re given in this moment.
Streaming on Hulu