Horror month is in full swing on the blog and it seems Netflix is fully aware of this too as it’s slapped on some pretty good titles for October. While these are usually hit-and-miss, this film is one I’ve had my eye on for a while. A no-brainer for this week then.
Written by Dear White People‘s Justin Simien I went into this with high expectations about what it had to say about black women versus the Euro-ccentric beauty ideal, appropriation of black culture, folklore and much more. Did it deliver? Let’s have a little look shall we?
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.
Film: Bad Hair (2020)
In the 70’s, young Anna ropes her older cousin into helping her relax her Afro hair. Unfortunately, she suffers a bad reaction to the chemical product they use and ends up permanently scarred on the back of her head. Fast forward to 1989 and Anna (Elle Lorraine) prefers to wear her hair natural.
An aspiring video jockey, Anna works as an assistant at Culture, an MTV-style channel dedicated to African-American music and – culture. One day she comes into work to find her mentor and head of programming – Edna – has been ousted from her position by the station’s owner, Grant Madison (James Van Der Beek). Grant – a white affluent man – has grand ideas about vamping up the station (naturally) and replaces Edna with former-supermodel Zora (Vanessa Williams).
Initially outraged at the replacement of Edna (Judith Scott), Anna and her colleagues swear to follow her when she starts her own rival business – but this changes when Zora tells Anna she likes her ideas about diversifying the channel’s presenters and incorporating a live chart countdown. Zora takes her on as an assistant producer but makes it clear that Anna has to do something about her hair first – for the sake of the channel’s new image and her career both.
Anna turns up at Zora’s salon – Virgie’s – to get her new weave but is dismayed to learn the waiting list means she won’t be looking fresh come Monday morning. She appeals to Virgie personally however and soon enough she’s sitting in the chair. The process is painful and long (and shot verrry graphically) but at the end of it, Anna can barely recognise herself. Virgie gives her a pink bottle of product and warns her – much like Gremlins – never to get her hair wet.
Well, they often depict hair as the source of a woman’s power and Anna’s new weave certainly gets her noticed, where before she was completely ignored. Her old flame, Julius (Jay Pharoah) starts noticing her again, despite seeing somebody else. She manages to convince the show’s VJs to change their hair to weaves too. It looks like things are falling into place for Anna and her dream of becoming a presenter when she learns a couple of disappointing things about her new boss.
First, Zora’s the mystery lady shagging Julius, and secondly, she’s decided to make herself a presenter instead. All this and Anna has noticed some untoward occurrences since her new ‘do was installed. Intense hunger pangs, bad nightmares and er, her hair seems to drink blood. With vengeance in her soul, Anna’s hair takes her down a worrying path where nobody is safe, not her disgusting racist landlord, Julius or even her work friends.
And what’s the connection to the folk story told to her by her uncle, a Black studies professor? The Moss Haired Girl tells tale of a slave who fashions a wig from tree moss to replicate the straight hair of her employer. The moss turns out to be the hair of dead witches, which possesses the woman and… Coincidence?
Will Anna succumb to the curse of her beautiful hair – or can she find a way to free herself? What of Zora and her own follicle foibles? Where the hell are these demonic tendrils coming from?
So many flipping questions, not enough hair puns in my repertoire.
I did enjoy this one, not least because of the absolutely banging cast. It has what I generally want from my horror – B-movie aesthetics, revenge, folklore. To the first point though, some of the characters weren’t given enough to do – looking at you, Lena Waithe‘s Brook-Lynne and cousin Linda (Chanté Adams). See also the rest of Anna’s family.
I also think there are times the horror outweighs some of the elements I wanted more of, like the relationships between the women and more about their relationship with their own hair choices. There is a lot to unpack to be honest and I keep thinking about threads that I wanted to pull at and explore in a deeper sense but didn’t get a chance to.
Perhaps this would have worked better as a TV show so we could explore those areas – such as why historically white people poo poo the folklore of different cultures in order to erase them – and spend more time with our favourite side characters.
Maybe I need a re-watch but I want to know more about why Anna is singled out for her natural hair while VJ Sista Soul (Yaani King Mondschein) – arguably ‘higher profile’ than our protagonist – is allowed to wear hers in a similar style. All this said, I’m a white woman so not everything is going to resonate with my experiences.
All in all I had a good time here. I liked the cartoonish gore – and the climax and its commentary about the cyclical nature of things. The big reveal about how and where the hair came from was intriguing, if not exactly a surprise. I really enjoyed the camp tone though it does take a little while to warm up and is a bit confusing at times.
I’m really interested to see what Justin (may I call you Justin, Justin?) does next and would be very open to more horror. Please.
MY RATING: 3.5/5