COCAINE BEAR **** USA 2023 Dir: Elizabeth Banks. 95 mins
Steven Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece, Jaws, blazed the way for a slew of animal creature features, which shocked and horrified audiences and almost single-handedly ushered in the era of the modern blockbuster. This seminal film inspired production companies and producers to try and emulate the staggering success of Jaws by copying the template, which led to Piranha (1978), Arachnophobia (1990) and Anaconda (1997). Inevitably, filmmakers would venture further away from the more serious, dramatic blueprint of their original influences, and veered towards the comedic, often sophomoric, and with significantly cheaper budgets. Black Sheep (2006) and Zombeavers (2014) were early adopters of this new SyFy channel approach to filmmaking, but it was undeniably Snakes on a Plane (2006) and Sharknado (2013) which propelled the satire-filled, gonzo-action science fiction genre into the popular zeitgeist.
When the trailer for Cocaine Bear hit cinemas in early 2023, audiences would have been forgiven to assume that this entry, by actor-cum-director Elizabeth Banks (Slither, The 40-year-old Virgin, Brightburn), would fall snugly within the category of disposable, witless and frivolous cinema fodder. But what audiences were confronted with, was a gory horror-comedy that’s a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, with a dash of true story and a large bag of illicit drugs.
Drug smugglers drop a shipment of cocaine from a plane, leading a detective and a motley crew of small-time criminals on a race to find the dropped bags of drugs.
In the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest, an American black bear consumes some of the cocaine, making her highly aggressive and she goes on a relentless and brutal killing spree.
Unaware of the dangerous situation unfolding, a young girl and her best friend, skip school and they trek through the national park. When her mother (Keri Russell) realizes her daughter is missing from school, she ventures into the park, looking for her.
When the drug-runners fail to secure the drugs, kingpin Syd White (Ray Liotta) joins the search and the entire group comes face-to-face with the Cocaine Bear!
The highly intriguing concept of Cocaine Bear would usually imply a major focus on the titular Ursidae and a distinct lack of development in any of the characters that would end up as victims to be picked off. But Elizabeth Banks populates the film with a number of colourful, idiosyncratic, and relatable characters. Keri Russell, as the doting mother, and Alden Ehrenreich as Eddie, both stand out, but the small ensemble work well together and bring life to side characters who are often rote and hollow. Both child actors, Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery, almost steal the show, with their foul-mouthed and playfully energetic performances.
The bloody rampage inflicted by the bear is equally humorous, horrific and inventive, which will most definitely satisfy gore hounds. Although the violence would be a prerequisite for modern filmgoers, it is the humour, and more surprisingly, the humanity of the individual story arcs, that really nestles at the heart of Cocaine Bear.
Cocaine Bear is a superior schlocky entry, which will entertain and surprise anyone who dares to go on the hunt for it.
Review by Louis Du Toit