‘Cocaine Bear’ Is ‘Highly’ Problematic

Garrett Hartman


“Cocaine Bear” is the most distasteful and "unfunny" film I have ever watched. Written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, “Cocaine Bear” is a horror comedy that depicts the horrific mauling of mostly innocent civilians by a bear that has consumed cocaine.


The film is loosely based on the true story of Andrew Thorton, a drug smuggler who died when his parachute failed to deploy. When authorities went searching for the cargo the smuggler was transporting, they found a dead bear, which appeared to have gotten into and overdosed on the drug.


The film tells a hypothetical story, where instead of dying after consuming the substance, the bear instead goes on a mass killing spree -- fueled by a desire to continue consuming cocaine.


The hour-and-a half-long film is a grisly slog through brutally gory action set pieces that revel in the senseless and excessively violent murder of uninteresting stereotypical characters, whose violent ends are played off for laughs. 


While no one who has seen the marketing material or heard the concept of the film is expecting another “Citizen Kane,” one could at least expect a competently executed, if not slightly generic, dark comedy. “Cocaine Bear,” however, is neither competent nor comical.  


The biggest issue the film has is its incoherent tone. “Cocaine Bear” simultaneously takes its horror sequences extremely seriously, yet also plays off the deaths as a gag. Tense horror sequences are undercut by brutal death scenes that are meant as a laugh; however, the “jokes” in these deaths are predictable and not funny. 


One example is the obvious joke of the nature-loving hippie character being killed by the bear. As soon as this character is introduced, the audience immediately knows the punchline. The mere existence of this character is a cheap and predictable laugh making his death unpleasant to watch. 



The film has tenuous-at-best “character arcs,” where small subplots attempt to make characters more interesting. However, these additions come off as bizarre nonsequitur details that have little purpose in the story and are barely resolved. 


The conclusion of the film emphasizes its lack of direction: As an attempt to give some narrative cohesion, it tries to make the audience sympathetic to the bear. A creature which, yes technically, doesn’t know any better, but has also been responsible for the deaths of several people. 


The antagonist of the film is shifted away from the clear and obvious villain, and the film is punctuated with yet another overindulgent and unpleasant death scene. 


The film is a frustrating montage of violence whose story and comedy serves solely as a thinly veiled excuse to view and trivialize death.


My dislike of this film is not merely a distaste for gore. I would argue I’m quite the fan of gory media, but this film simply lacks any of the tact that makes gory movies fun. Other films balance hyperviolence and dark comedy quite well. Films like “Zombieland” and “Scream” are examples of comedy and violence that work together. 



Unlike these films, “Cocaine Bear” doesn’t have any “jokes” -- the film's existence is the joke -- and every ad for this movie is self-aware about how absurd the premise is. The film marketed itself on a “I can’t believe this is an actual movie” ideology. 


The film is a testament to the increasing laziness of Hollywood, and the immense profitability of viral marketing. “Cocaine Bear” was made on a relatively small budget of approximately $35 million, a price tag it almost made back in its $23.1 million opening weekend


This is what makes “Cocaine Bear” seem like such an insult; its marketing worked. It got countless people to cough up the money for a ticket for a product that was ultimately just a means of cashing in on a clever ad campaign.


As a result, we will likely get more lazy, undercooked, sensationalist movies that rely on cheap gimmicks and excessive, distasteful spectacle. 


Author Bio:

Garrett Hartman is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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