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‘Cocaine Bear’ is the new creature feature from Universal Pictures that seems as chaotic as the premise. Elizabeth Banks makes an absurd concept palatable for even the weary. Opening with the contents of fourteen billion dollars worth of cocaine spilling out of the plane, into the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. A black bear gets into the stash, unleashing it on a rampage against campers, criminals, and cops.
The film is an amusing concept as most of us are already intrigued by the thought of a bear on drugs. Those that share the wonder will be intrigued to follow the cast of characters on their journey to escape the bear while she goes on a rampage. The concept alone makes it a comedy horror film that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but not certainly not slept on.
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‘Cocaine Bear’ – The Creature Feature Slasher
‘Cocaine Bear’ is an indulgent film that wants to please the audience. Not for the squeamish, this is a special effects artist’s dream; limbs are thrown from the forest bush, organs are ripped from bodies, and blood bleeds everywhere.
It is a great spin on a concept as they take elements from the 80’s slasher film and the early monsters of Universal Pictures to create a new spin on something old. Instead of a chainsaw or a knife that a masked murderer possesses, it is a black bear you could find in any forest on the east coast. Title cards in the opening minutes tell you the difference in black and brown bears as black bears should be relatively docile if you stand up to them. That creates irony throughout the film as most of the people who die think they need to stand up to the cocaine bear for it to back off.
Writer Jimmy Warden makes sure to allude to this in the opening of the film with two love struck hippies walking through the forest obnoxiously taking photos of the bear. The classic cold opening that is meant to scare and prepare us for what is going to become the rest of the film. By putting this cliche up front and including funny dialogue that subtextually pokes fun at itself then makes the audience accept something we already are familiar with.
At first this could seem like the next ‘Sharknado.’ A story driven completely by an absurd premise that is a servant to the boundaries the concept alone will take you, but that isn’t the case here. Simple themes help to provide sustenance around the kitschy overtones that could easily be overused. The film’s main purpose is to bring out those visceral responses that a slasher film would elicit. The gore and body horror comes from a place in the 1980’s when prosthetics were heavily used and the surreal could be used to evoke anxieties and fears of audiences.
Elizabeth Banks has been an actress in the industry for over twenty years. Some of her notable roles include ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Love and Mercy.’Her next attempt in the director’s seat proves to be successful as she pulls off an indulgent movie that doesn’t try to be more than it needs to be.
The camera placements feel that of an eager director willing to show off their talents. With that said, she possesses something much greater than a novice. Banks’ experience allows her to know when quick cuts or a moving camera is too much. She can slow the pace of the film down as much as she can speed it up which is a testament to her direction as well as the pace in the writing and the editing of Joel Negron.
Banks is at her best when she is creating suspense. In a Hitchcockian way she creates slow creeping steps that build to the execution. One of the best ways she displays is through the character of a nurse and her daughter.
A horror film always has their victims be a bystander or observer to what is happening that gets killed. The image frightens us because they did nothing wrong, they don’t know what is coming and often, as the viewer, those are the people we will relate the most to. So when bad things start happening we immediately clench up. Her ability to create anxiety through those characters translates perfectly.
As an actress initially, her latest time directing a cast appears seamless. The chemistry of the actors on screen are ultimately what helps to drive the comedy Banks is trying to sew in. While in the midst of tragedy and chaos, the characters keep level headed thus forth driving the irony.
The well directed ensemble comes to the mountain trails of Georgia and offer a wide net of archetypal snacks for our Cocaine Bear. There are the criminals attempting to get the cocaine back, the rangers and cops who are civil servants, and the family who innocently is there. The cast forces you to choose who you want to live and who you want to die. You will unconsciously attach to some characters over others to create for a roller coaster ride in the theater.
Sadly in his last role before his passing, Ray Liotta plays the drug dealer who is responsible for the lost drugs. His performance allures us as he is the most heinous of his team of criminals. The two strong-arms beside him are played by Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr, whose wholesome connection contradicts their career choices.
Two characters that provide substantial humor are the park ranger played Margo Martindale and the detective pursuing the case played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. Each on their own path to do the right thing but with silly character nuances that makes you root for them the most.
Two young actors, Brooklyn Prince and Christian Convery, play kids who skip school to go paint a waterfall. Keri Russell plays the mom who finds the clues left by her daughter to follow her. The kids’ knowledge on the taboo makes for some memorable dialogue that’ll have you rooting for them.
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The ensemble cast makes sure that there’s never a dull moment. Once in the setting of the forest, each character enters into two paths that could play out, either they die or they will stay alive. What Banks and Warden did so well was give each character enough internal conflict to create higher stakes. Everyone has their unique wants in the narrative which brings them to the forest and forces the characters to interact with each other in ways that would not otherwise happen.
Expectations will be broken with ‘Cocaine Bear.’ So far it is one of the most fun movies I have seen in a theater. The energy exuded is controlled chaos.
Banks next directorial project is the tv movie ‘The Greater Good’ written by Caroline Williams. She will also star in the book adaptation of ‘A Mistake’ directed by Christine Jeffs. Alden Ehrenreich is set to be in Christopher Nolan’s next blockbuster ‘Oppenheimer’ alongside Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, and Matt Damon. O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s next project is ‘American Sole’ directed by Ian Edelman and also stars Camila Mendes.
Producers: Elizabeth Banks, Brian Duffield, Max Handelman, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Matt Reilly, and Aditya Sood
Writer: Jimmy Warden
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Editor: Joel Negron
Mentioned Cast: Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ray Liotta, Margo Martindale, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
By Devon James
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Devon James is a screen and media writer determined to provide readers with engaging and informative content. His film industry background gives him an adept knowledge in the entertainment industry. This complies with The Hollywood Insider’s mission to educate readers. Devon likes seeing hidden voices in film that provide new cultural perspectives. He enjoys the conversations cinema creates; hoping through his writing to open up topics for discussion.