Sundance 2020: Justin Simien's Haunted Hair Horror Film 'Bad Hair'
by Alex Billington
January 24, 2020
Step aside zombies and ghosts, haunted hair is going to be all the rage in 2020. And I'm not talking about The Ring. The immensely talented writer / director Justin Simien is back at the Sundance Film Festival with his second feature film (following his directorial debut Dear White People premiering at the festival in 2014). His new film is called Bad Hair, a major horror moment introducing us to a new horror concept - haunted hair weaves. The film goes all out with that haunted hair concept, perhaps indulging a bit too much, but nonetheless this still feels like a landmark film in the horror genre. It definitely will not be for everyone, because not all of us have had to deal with nappy hair, but that's also exactly why this film rules. It's original and creative and clever and specific, and introduces us to Elle Lorraine as Anna and her haunted weaves.
Set in the late 1980s, the film follows a young intern at a pop culture TV station called "Cult". She's given the chance of a lifetime when her new boss admires her ideas of how to reprogram and freshen up the station's offerings. But she is not all that likable - until she gives in to the intense social pressure and goes to a fancy overpriced hair salon to get weaves sewn into her head. Slowly they take over, commanding her while also helping her progress in her career. Anna hates dealing with all the pain that comes with perfectly straight, beautiful hair but it also makes a big difference. The film perfectly expresses the ambiguity of deciding what is empowering and important in life to move ahead, while questioning whether there's a bad side or catch to these choices. One of the best nods in this film is the way it tips its hat to Carpenter's They Live from 1988.
Something about this film just registered with me, and I think it's such an immensely original and one-of-a-kind crazy horror feature. Yes, it is an 80s De Palma thriller throwback with all kinds of horror nods, but it's also still contemporary and intelligent and universal. It's the best kind of "fuck with you" horror film. It feels it could be tightened up a bit, running almost two hours with some scenes that play out too slowly. But other than that it's a blast. Not only just a clever horror film, but another important please-think-about-this cautionary tale, another way to remind us that it's easy to get sucked into the cult of society and beauty, and lose control of ourselves just because we are moving forward (in career, in social class, in romance, whatever it may be). And it's just awesome to see a film that is so distinctly about and driven by strong black women.
As a white man, I must admit I am not familiar with the experiences of the numerous black women featured in the film. However, that didn't stop me from appreciating and enjoying the story anyway, and recognizing how unique it is to feature this many strong female characters. And it doesn't mean this film can't connect with anyone from anywhere, no matter what kind of hair you have. I hope all the other die-hard horror fans go nuts for this, too. It's got the all-out horror craziness that makes it a major new entry in the psychological thriller / horror genre. And it's also got the creativity, and the unforgettable performances, and the nuances, and all the references and hidden details, that make it an instant classic. I loved the film's originality and intensity, the astute humor and clever twists on horror tropes, all leading up to one hell of a freaky final act.