There are two genres that often walk a very fine line with each other: horror and comedy. In some cases there are horror movies that are that bad they stray into the comedy genre because you just end up laughing at how awful it is.
And there are comedies that go so dark that it’s hard to argue they’re not in the horror genre. But it’s when the filmmakers begin with the intention of marrying the two that the sweet spot is found. Films like The Evil Dead 2 (which spawned a sequel film and series that leaned even more heavily into the comedy tropes) and Zombieland found huge popularity thanks to making audiences laugh one second, and then throwing blood and guts at them the next. Cocaine Bear is the latest movie to try to join this sub-genre; and does a pretty good job of it.
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Cocaine Bear is loosely (very loosely) based upon the real life story of Cokey the Bear (I prefer Pablo Escobear), a black bear that ingested $20 million worth of cocaine dumped in a Tennessee forest, and promptly died. Not ever being a place to stick to historical accuracy, Hollywood has turned Cokey’s story into one of a bear high on drugs, killing anyone it comes across. But, Cocaine Bear isn’t just about vicious and ridiculous bear attacks, as there are some human stories thrown into the mixture too.
Cocaine Bear begins quite closely to the real events, with a small plane transporting drugs over the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest. When the plane experiences difficulties, the pilot throws out bags packed with bricks of cocaine, before jumping out himself. Unfortunately he doesn’t survive the bail out, and cops find his body, and drugs, on a gentleman’s lawn. Realising that he was transporting coke, Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) suspects there may be more drugs out in the forest. At the same time, the dealer who the drugs were heading towards, Syd (Ray Liotta) needs to retrieve them to avoid anger from those above him in the chain, and so sends his enforcer Daveed (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and depressed son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) to get them back.
The forest isn’t just the destination of cops and drug dealers though, as single mother Sari (Keri Russell) with the assistance of park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale), head up there to look for Sari’s daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friend Henry (Christian Convery), who have skipped out on school. And so these various groups begin to converge on the remote national park, each with their own reasons for being there, and soon to be united in a fight for survival against a drugged up black bear who’ll rip apart anyone between her and her precious drugs.
Cocaine Bear doesn’t even try to take itself too seriously, and that absolutely works to its benefit. This isn’t a film that could work any other way, and it seems like director Eliabeth Banks fully understands that, and embraces the sense of ridiculous and weird that permeates the movie. It’s not just the fact that there’s a coked-up bear running around the woods, but even the people and their exploits have an air of the ridiculous and odd. Bob is made up like a hardened, grizzled cop, but is having to deal with his dog adoption agency accidentally sending him a tiny show dog. Syd is a vicious drug dealer, but is stuck babysitting his grandson, after the death of his daughter-in-law sends his son into a pit of depression, and his son is not only having to deal with the loss of his wife, but his memorial tattoo to her accidentally having a man’s name instead.
Almost every character that appears on film is a stereotype that’s been given a little bit of a twist to make them feel slightly odd and off. All except for Sari, who’s pretty much the straight-man of the film. Keri Russell is a mother out to find her missing kid, and whilst she does have some moments to say a few funny lines she’s treated as pretty grounded compared to everyone else. This might be because her story is the only one with the real stakes of trying to find missing kids, or it could be because she’s really the only person in those woods without some kind of ulterior motive, or rule breaking reason. Even the cop is out there on his own to try and get the big arrest to make himself look good, not because it’s the right thing to do.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about the film though is the fact that it’s not just bear attacks that fill out the movie and cause carnage, as a lot of the blood and death happens at the hands of the human characters too. Whether it’s people out to screw each other over, or bizarre series of accidents that lead to over the top deaths, the film seems like it’s setting out to make each moment more ridiculous and fun filled than the last, and there are more than a few parts of the movie that have you shaking your head, wondering what you’ve just watched, but in the most delightful of ways.
The new 4K Ultra-HD release also comes with a few extras for those wanting even more Cokey in their lives. There’s an alternate ending and a few deleted scenes, though these come to probably less than five minutes in total. There are a few behind the scenes features that go into the making of the movie and they show a little bit about how the gory death scenes were made. Whilst this is interesting stuff, it does feel very light on the ground, with each being ten minutes long at a maximum, and you’ll be through all of the extras in less than half hour, which is a bit disappointing.
Cocaine Bear is never going to win awards, it’s never going to be spoken of with reverence, or held up as anything other than silly fluff. But if you’re looking for some silly fluff, something that will entertain you and make you laugh at how silly and fun it is, then this is a film that will easily provide. It makes a very clear mission statement with the title, and the film delivers on that ridiculousness in spades.
Cocaine Bear is out now on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download.