Cocaine Bear is exactly the movie you want Cocaine Bear to be
High-concept movies often have the most to lose, because if your plot can be described in a succinct sentence, then you had better deliver on it as you've got nothing else to fall back on.
Enter Cocaine Bear, which, if you have avoided the trailers over the past few months, is really about a bear on cocaine. Who just happens to go on a coke-fuelled rampage in a Georgia forest.
It's loosely inspired by a true story, one with a tragic ending as the bear obviously overdosed when it happened upon a duffel bag filled with 70lb of cocaine. It's not really a spoiler to say that doesn't happen here as writer Jimmy Warden has refashioned the tale into an outrageous horror comedy.
Sounds stupid, right? It could never work, right? Well, perhaps the most outrageous thing is that Cocaine Bear is everything you want a movie called Cocaine Bear to be – and also genuinely one of the best movies of the year to date.
There's a version of Cocaine Bear where it's played essentially as a spoof, where everybody gives knowing glances to the camera about how crazy it is that a bear is on cocaine and violently mauling people. But the smartest call director Elizabeth Banks and Warden have made is to play it (relatively) straight.
Yes, it's hard to be totally serious with the concept, but the characters are reacting to the situation they're in rather than making gags about it. There's also time spent on developing the characters so that you care about them, whether it's the mother searching for her daughter or the son trying to break free from his drug-kingpin father.
It's an oddball group of characters, but it works due to a talented cast featuring the likes of Alden Ehrenreich, Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson Jr and Ray Liotta – who all fully understood the assignment. Even the bear, affectionately named Cokey on set, gets a personality thanks to excellent work by Wētā FX.
Of course, you don't come to a movie called Cocaine Bear and necessarily want (or need) well-formed characters. It's just an element of the movie that makes it less of a fun one-time watch, and more into a movie that you could see yourself wanting to return to time and again.
What you really come to Cocaine Bear for is some coke-fuelled bear-on-human action – and Banks does not hold back. Blood is liberally spilled, body parts are separated from their owners and, in one memorable sequence, there's an audacious death by stretcher that'll have you wincing and laughing.
It might not be clear why we called the movie a horror comedy from the trailers, but this is no straight-up comedy. Banks crafts tense sequences where Cokey gives Michael Myers a run for his money, stalking prey but not out of a malicious desire. Cokey just loves coke, and its victims just unfortunately end up in the way.
We're not saying that Cocaine Bear is the new Hereditary. It's still first and foremost an often-hilarious comedy that reveals in its absurdity, but the horror set pieces are another string to its bow that make it even more than the movie you thought it was.
What keeps it from being completely faultless is that it does run out of steam in its final act. It's hard to keep up the energy, gag rate and kill rate of the opening hour or so, and in contriving a way for all plot elements to come together, the movie loses some of its momentum.
You'll still end up having a five-star experience if you see Cocaine Bear though, as even this final act delivers an adorably messed-up reveal. It's both exactly the movie you want it to be and also surprising in ways you didn't expect.
Don't make Cokey mad. Go and see Cocaine Bear.
Cocaine Bear is out now in cinemas.
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