Synopsis – An oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists, and teens converge in a Georgia forest where a 500-pound black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine.
My Take – Creature features follow a pretty much standard set up – a bunch of likable and unlikable human characters are placed in a situation, which sees them getting hunted and killed off by a pissed off wild animal in every possible and impossible ways. With only the quality of the venture differentiating from each other. As the skill lies not in just delivering effective kills, but successfully translating the sensibility of the whole concept from paper to screen.
This latest one is very loosely based on a true story, where illegal drugs actually were thrown out of a plane and killed a bear earning him the sobriquet ‘Pablo Escobear’.
Honestly, I really didn’t expect a lot from actor turned film-maker Elizabeth Banks’s third directorial feature (Pitch Perfect 2, Charlie’s Angels reboot). The trailers promised just one thing: a bear finding cocaine in the woods, consuming said cocaine, and going into a murderous rage while high as hell. And, on this very exact and limited scale, the film 100% delivered on these fronts.
Produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the film celebrates its nonsensical story, gives its characters (and its bear) plenty to chew on and a script with jokes that mostly land and kills that frequently delight, giving us exactly and specifically what we signed up for.
It’s gory, fun as hell, packed with hilarious grotesque kills and over-the-top characters, and at 95 minutes, it’s paced near perfectly and never overstays its welcome or overdoses on the humor. This one is destined to join the ranks of the best horror comedies of all time. Its blend of hilarious insanity and unexpected gore moments is pitch perfect.
Set in 1985, the story sees Andrew C. Thornton II (Matthew Rhys), a drug dealer, dump an entire load of cocaine bags he was smuggling for St. Louis drug kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta) from his plane, but fails in his attempt to parachute out well, leading to his imminent death. Later, his dead body is found on a suburban driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee with one of the duffels still strapped to him. Despite his condition, Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a local detective, identifies him and concludes that there are more bags to be found.
Upon receiving the knowledge of Andrew’s death, Syd sends his fixer, Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his son, Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich), to head towards Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and retrieve the bags. Elsewhere, Sari (Keri Russell) is searching the forest for her daughter, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), who skipped school to go paint a waterfall with her friend Henry (Christian Convery) and is being aided by Ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) and Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a wildlife inspector.
Of course, none of these people have any idea that an American black bear has gotten into one of the bags and is now higher than the average bear, terrorizing the forest by attacking anyone it comes across in its search for more cocaine.
The film wastes no time. We get to see our titular monster bear in action from the opening scene, and we get the bear minimum of character exposition for all the people who may or may not get mauled, and we’re off to the races for more bloody fun. Horror and comedy themes always have the chance to be at odds with each other, but here they bounce off each other well.
That’s not just because the entire concept is absurd but also because every single person on screen is fully, completely committed to the bit, and there’s an infectious sense that they were very clearly having an absolute blast making it.
And one thing the film delivers is on is the shockingly high gore quotient. This is a hard-R country bear jamboree: limbs are separated from victims; guns blow holes through heads; faces get scraped off on the asphalt.
The kills here mostly work because they’re gory, maniacal, and often just straight-up hilarious. In reality, bears don’t generally bother to kill their victims before eating them, they just start ripping and tearing. Throw in cocaine and it’s definitely much less likely to handle its dinner with grace.
It’s brutal, but you’re not quite rooting for most of the characters because many of them don’t have enough time to make a smart decision given the insane situation they’ve just found themselves in, and several of them are straight-up bad but likable people attempting to find cocaine themselves.
From the early devouring of the hiker, a nod to the opening act of Jaws (1975), to the bass-note growls signalling the monster’s arrival, the film wears its influences on its sleeve. Here’s the slapstick head-cheese of director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films; here’s the oddball character comedy of the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996). Meanwhile, producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who first developed Jimmy Warden’s script for Scream team Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) bring their usual anarchic playfulness.
The bear itself was designed and animated by Weta FX, the New Zealand-based digital effects studio behind blockbusters like the Lord of the Rings films and Avatar (2009), so suffice to say it looks and moves incredibly realistically, or at least as believably as one would imagine a bear hopped up on cocaine could be.
The cast is surprisingly strong and are totally hamming it up. Keri Russell does a great job as the concerned parent, while O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich play off each other very well. Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery manage to be standouts. While Margo Martindale, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristofer Hivju, Scott Seiss, Kahyun Kim and Matthew Rhys are effective in other roles. In his final role, Ray Liotta is awesome as the sleazy drug kingpin grandfather. On the whole, ‘Cocaine Bear’ is a sporadically goofy horror comedy that delivers roaring good gory fun.
Directed – Elizabeth Banks
Starring – Ray Liotta, Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich
Rated – R
Run Time – 95 minutes