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WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Cocaine Bear – a comedy horror that will have you snorting with laughter

Cocaine Bear – a comedy horror that will have you snorting with laughter
Production still of 'Cocaine Bear'. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

The ridiculous B-rate blockbuster is based on the wild true story of Pablo Eskobear, but with a lot of extra death mixed in.

In a nutshell

Cocaine Bear is a funny, crude, excessively violent B-rate comedy horror that has just one trick and does it well. It’s loosely based on a bizarre true story that took place in December 1985:

A notorious drug smuggler transporting about 400kg of cocaine started dumping duffel bags of it out of his plane and then jumped out himself with a parachute and $15-million worth of the stuff strapped to his body. The working theory is that he thought the Feds were tailing him, but whatever his reasons were, the drugs made him too heavy for the parachute and he was found dead in a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee. The rest of the drugs were found by a fully-grown black bear and… eaten. 

Three months later, the bear (now known affectionately as Pablo Eskobear) was found dead of an overdose alongside 40 opened plastic containers of cocaine, and is currently on display at a Mall in Lexington, Kentucky. The crucial difference between the actual story and director Elizabeth Banks’s comedy version is that while we have no idea what really happened between the bear consuming the drugs and overdosing, in the movie it goes on a manic, drug-fuelled killing spree

Where to watch it

Cocaine Bear is currently showing in cinemas. It will be added to streaming platforms around June 2023. Its addition has been confirmed for Prime Video and Peacock TV, which South Africans can access via a VPN.

What’s the vibe?

Production still of 'Cocaine Bear'. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Production still of ‘Cocaine Bear’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Cocaine Bear is about as high concept as it gets. As comedian Scott Seis puts it in this Facebook reel: “If you’ve ever heard the words ‘cocaine’ or ‘bear’ before, you’re completely up to speed.” Cocaine Bear is definitely comparable to other high-concept horror B-movies. Sharknado and Piranha 3D are probably the best examples in that the antagonists are vicious wild animals. The crucial difference between those films and Cocaine Bear is that while they were funny because they were so bad, Cocaine Bear is bad on purpose, in order to be funny. 

It’s a lot like the horror comedies of the 2000s and early 2010s, such as Cabin in the Woods or Scary Movie, in that it takes its frivolity in its stride and makes fun at similar movies that don’t. It’s also a monster hunt flick, but unlike Sharknado or Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, the monster is a single beast with personality and motivation (even if it is a deranged one) like that of Cujo or more recently, Beast.

The balance of comedy to horror is pretty 50-50 and the shock and extremis of the horror is often the source of the comedy, much like certain moments of physical comedy in the recent killer-doll sci-fi horror M3gan. Just as M3gan does an interpretive dance en route to stabbing someone with a paper cutter, the Cocaine Bear sniffs a line off of a leg she’s just severed from one of her victims.

Production still of 'Cocaine Bear'. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Production still of ‘Cocaine Bear’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

 A closer look

When speaking about Cocaine Bear, director Banks said: “Horror and comedy are two sides of the same coin. I essentially make comedies and I put them inside other movies.” Comedy-horror director Jordan Peele has often spoken about the similarity between the two genres and why they work so well together. Banks’s film is a lot more rudimentary than a nuanced comedy horror like Peele’s Nope, but it uses that cheapness as an additional source of humour. 

The horror cinematography is totally by the book, using all the familiar suspense and jump shots; there’s even a scene using an actual heartbeat to build suspense; but whenever there’s a concession on the quality of the horror it adds to the comedy. When the bear is being terrifying, stalking somebody or chasing down an ambulance, the CGI is pretty good, but when it’s tripping out, slamming its head against the tree or basking in a spray of blow, the effects are more cartoonish as part of the gag. The foley effects are similarly over the top – a bear crunching through a human leg wouldn’t sound like that, but it wouldn’t be as funny if it didn’t. 

Cocaine Bear dances in a shower of cocaine. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Cocaine Bear dances in a shower of cocaine. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

The snarky character comedy is surprisingly good. The banter between the inept drug dealers is even funnier than the malfeasance of the dorky, patronising park rangers who say things like, “rangers are peace officers… which means we can shoot people.” Two of the unlucky victims who find some of the cocaine are children, creating an amusing clash between the PG content of the film and their naivety.

A few actors are saddled with terrible writing, including two of the most famous: Keri Russell (Mission: Impossible III, August Rush) and Kristofer Hivju (Game of Thrones, The Fate of the Furious). We meet a lot of characters very quickly and develop strong connections to none of them, which is absolutely fine – you don’t go to a movie called Cocaine Bear to make friends with the cast, you go to see them ripped to shreds with excessive CGI in ways so ridiculous that you don’t feel bad for laughing. 

The lack of character development actually works for the film, which is why it is so cringy and disappointing when, in the final act, the director attempts to endear you to the characters and create a sense of urgency around their survival. As soon as it starts actually trying, it becomes irritating that nothing makes sense, and fails miserably.

Cocaine Bear is based around the single gag it brags in the name, delivered with escalating gore and diminishing returns. A movie this ridiculous would require something more to last the duration of a full-feature film. It’s a blast and it’s worth the movie ticket, but watching all the way to the end is like swallowing the processed salt and unpopped kernels at the bottom of your popcorn – the light, fluffy snack is delicious most of the way, but you don’t have to finish it just because you paid for it, and you’ll probably regret it if you do. A movie-goer with practised self-control would be best off enjoying the first hour of comedy-horror and then leaving without looking back before the tone turns serious.

O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Daveed, Alden Ehrenreich as Eddie, Ayoola Smart as Officer Reba, and Ray Liotta as Syd in 'Cocaine Bear'. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Daveed, Alden Ehrenreich as Eddie, Ayoola Smart as Officer Reba, and Ray Liotta as Syd in ‘Cocaine Bear’. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

Viewer warnings:

Cocaine Bear is excessively violent. It’s less disturbing due to the silliness, but expect a lot of blood and guts and a complete disregard for human life. DM/ML

You can contact We’re Watching via [email protected]

'Cocaine Bear' official movie poster. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

‘Cocaine Bear’ official movie poster. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures

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