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Cocaine Bear is a grizzly and campy horror that you just have to see

Now entering the Sharknado and Snakes on a Plane universe, a cocaine-fuelled bear is the latest hit in the canon of films that are so bad they're great. Arron Kennon delves into the unexpected successes of this film.

By Arron Kennon, Second Year, English

In 1985, an American black bear managed to consume $2 million (34 Kg) worth of cocaine which had been left in the Tennessee wilderness by Colombian drug smugglers.  The bear was later found dead in Georgia, having suffered an overdose. These events earned the bear the appropriate name of Pablo Escobear.  

In Cocaine Bear (2023), Elizabeth Banks looks to diversify her directorial portfolio after Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) and Charlie’s Angels (2019), teaming up with writer Jimmy Warden to bring this tale to the screen.

Kerri Russell in Cocaine Bear (2023) // Courtesy of Universal Pictures on IMDB

The film packs just over 90 minutes of outrageous action, slapstick humour and, of course, a cocaine-fuelled bear on a murderous rampage (it is at this point that Warren’s creative liberties come to the forefront of the film).

Given the film’s status as an obvious creature-feature type B movie, the CGI is surprisingly effective, and the bear is brought to life in a way which ensures that the audience is thrilled.

Banks’s directing does not hold back with the gore, indulging in flying limbs, decapitation, and organ removals.  The pieces come together with such anarchic fury, infused with undertones of parody, all making for a preposterous yet exceedingly enjoyable film.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures on IMDB

It seems unlikely that anyone going to see the film expected much subtlety or psychological nuance; more than sufficient hype was built surrounding the film based on the absurd premise alone. It is somewhat unfortunate that Banks and Warren did not commit fully to a film filled to the brim with B-movie thrills and fun.

The moments away from the action only serve to arrest the momentum of the film. When the film focuses on the relationships within the rag-tag group who are out in the wilderness with the bear, it disrupts the pacing, and these moments are given neither the time nor care to conjure any sort of sympathy or sentimentality from the audience.

In fact, I’d hazard a guess that I was not alone in hoping that the bear caused as much destruction as possible, the safety of the characters never crossing my mind.

Aaron Holiday and O'Shea Jackson Jr. in Cocaine Bear (2023) // Courtesy of Universal Pictures on IMDB

This is not a criticism of the acting, however, which was central to the slap-stick humour throughout. The film opens with Matthew Rhys admirably playing the drug smuggler who cannot leave the cocaine behind without having a few lines first.

Ray Liotta puts on a performance which tragically calls back to his signature role as Harry Hill in Goodfellas (1990), a reminder of his importance to cinema in light of his recent death.

Ray Liotta, Alden Ehrenreich, O'Shea Jackson Jr., and Ayoola Smart in Cocaine Bear (2023) // Courtesy of Universal Pictures on IMDB

The canon of films which never needed to be made yet would surely leave the world a darker place if they ceased to exist is small yet slowly expanding. It contains classics such as Snakes on a Plane (2006) and Sharknado (2013).

Cocaine Bear, with its unapologetic fusions of farce, gore and thrill, along with its stellar cast, may just be the best one yet. A film which has an ambulance at full speed chasing a black bear who has ingested a child’s body weight in cocaine is not one to be missed.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Universal Pictures on IMDB

Will you be watching this cocaine-fuelled bear go on a killing rampage?