“Cocaine Bear” is a riotous horror-comedy that delivers on its promise of a big bear on cocaine wreaking havoc in the woods. Directed by Elizabeth Banks, the film is set in 1985, when the actual events that inspired the movie took place. Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden infuse the characters with identifiable quirks and needs, making them more likable and relatable. Even the film’s villain, drug dealer Syd, played by the legendary Ray Liotta in one of his final roles, has recognisable resentments and fears.
Banks keeps the proceedings light and entertaining, balancing the gore and violence with humor and heart. The script sets several groups in motion, sometimes at cross-purposes, all heading towards the bear. Once the threat is established, we get to know the threatened. The performances are uniformly solid, with Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Margo Martindale, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson all delivering strong turns.
Banks’ affection for the bear is evident throughout the film, even as it wreaks havoc on the hapless humans. The tension-filled sequences that have little to do with the bear add to the film’s overall sense of fun and unpredictability. The film has the structure of a slasher movie from the ’80s, but it owes a lot to the animals-attack subgenre of the ’70s. “Cocaine Bear” is a winning mix of heart and gore, skillfully threaded by Banks, who proves herself to be a deft hand at comedy and horror. The film’s success at the box office is a testament to its word-of-mouth appeal, as audiences flock to see the film again and again. With “Cocaine Bear,” Banks has earned her place as a director to watch, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.