Sundance Film Review: Bad Hair
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Justin Simien
Bad Hair is the kind of film that I think most audiences want to see at Sundance. It’s good, draws from cultural folklore, and pushes boundaries yet is accessible. But most of all, it’s scary and funny, a horror comedy. Bad Hair possesses the uncanny ability to tense you in your seat, hit you with a jump scare then elicit your laughter. At first, I was wary of the pacing, but as the story unfolds, I bore witnesses to director Justin Simien’s masterful build of tension with protagonist Anna’s (Elle Lorraine) quest to be seen at her network job for black entertainment TV station Culture in L.A. in the ’80s. Once a leadership shift takes place at the network, new boss Zora (Vanessa Williams) takes a liking to Anna but encourages her to get a weave. Anna acquiesces to the suggestion, but there are more sinister changes in store for her than just a new hairdo.
Anna suffered a chemical-burn accident as a child when her sister tried to give her a hair treatment. Anna ended up with a scar and has avoided any major hair alterations ever since. At a family dinner, her uncle lends her a book on African-American folklore that originated in the days of slavery. From this tome, she learns of the legend of the Moss-Haired Woman, which opens with a tale of a woman who took hair-like moss from the woods. The book’s illustrations depict the hair attacking people from the woman’s scalp.
It’s a clear, clever setup for the weave Anna gets from Virgie (LaVerne Cox) at her world-class salon. Virgie puts the weave in so tight that it draws blood from Anna’s scalp, and Anna cries from the pain. It seems to have been worth it, as more people notice her at work while she curries Zora’s favor with a shot at hosting her own show. As the tips of her hair start moving into bloody wounds by its own volition, though, Anna realizes that it may not have been worth it—but that it also may be too late.
Bad Hair seems like it originated from a more straightforwardly horror-informed screenplay. I’d wager that when Simien began editing the story for the screen, though, he realized the absurdity of depicting hair with a mind of its own, and instead of forcing anything, leaned into the comedic sensibility that Bad Hair so excellently achieves. It doesn’t hurt that Bad Hair’s star-studded cast performs with panache. Lena Waithe has some hilarious scenes as Brooke-Lynne, and Usher even had a role—what more could you want? Bad Hair is a gem all around. –Alexander Ortega
Jan. 28 // 11:59 p.m // Library Center Theatre Park City
Jan. 31 // 3:30 p.m // The Ray Theatre Park City
Read more of SLUG’s comprehensive coverage of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.