Arts & Culture

All Hail Cocaine Bear, Cinema’s Newest Steel Magnolia

Cocaine Bear is us, and we are Cocaine Bear (kind of)

Photo: universal studios

There’s a scene in Cocaine Bear, the faintly factual, Georgia-based film about the hazardous effects of narcotics on wildlife, which is at first pass rather funny, and on later recollection, intensely relatable. 

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Our title character—a Georgia black bear who has snorted several kilos of coke that were thrown from a plane—has cornered several of its human adversaries/prey. (Spoilers ahead, obviously.) The humans are lying still, playing dead, when the Cocaine Bear wanders among them, nuzzles them with a still-bloody muzzle…and then passes out cold atop one of them, its 350-pound bulk a smothering weight. 

It’s at this moment that we learn Cocaine Bear is a female, thanks to the instant-classic line “Her vagina is on my ear.” (Come on, don’t be shocked. You knew from the title this flick wasn’t going to be The Banshees of Inisherin.) 

A few minutes later, we’re introduced to two scrappy little cubs who’ve absolutely powdered themselves in cocaine, and at this point, the entire movie shifts on its (very wobbly) axis. We now realize: Cocaine Bear is a mother! And like all parents, especially those at home with overly jacked-up little ones, she just wanted a few minutes of peace and quiet so she could grab a nap. 

Relatable! What parent hasn’t gone at it a little too hard—whether with a mountain of cocaine or a Chick-fil-A cup of Mommy Juice at an elementary school function—and just needed a few minutes to rest their eyes? Wouldn’t have expected to utter the phrase “Cocaine Bear is us, and we are Cocaine Bear,” but here we are. 

This is not to say Cocaine Bear is a great movie. It’s not even a very good movie. It is, however, a welcome throwback, heir to a very specific kind of Southern film, gleeful self-contained chaos in deceptively beautiful geography. Like Cannonball Run, it features a wide array of recognizable actors hamming it up in paper-thin roles. Like Deliverance, it’s a bloody lesson on what happens when smug city folk think they can plunge into the North Georgia wilderness unprepared. And like Gone With the Wind, it sports a fierce, relentless female lead. 

Where Scarlett O’Hara vowed never to go hungry again, however, Cocaine Bear simply takes matters into her own claws. She methodically disembowels hikers, teenagers, park rangers, EMT workers, and mob bosses, all while maniacally searching for more coke right up until the theater lights come up. I know what you’re thinking, and I’m thinking it too: Cocaine Bear would fit in perfectly with the rest of the Steel Magnolias. 

Is Cocaine Bear for you? If the sight of a bear doing coke off a severed leg or the phrase “ropy entrails” turn your stomach sideways, probably not. It’s best enjoyed 1. In a crowded theater of like-minded viewers, 2. In combination with beer, wings, pizza, or other mood enhancers, or 3. While scrolling your phone and half-watching at 2 a.m. after a strong night out. This is not a watch-in-silence-and-contemplate-the-majesty-of-cinema movie.

What Cocaine Bear does offer is narrative clarity—which is to say, the Good Guys (mostly) win and the Bad Guys get what they deserve. Yes, the film’s Southern accents are more slippery than a watermelon at a Fourth of July pool party. And yes, the waterfall in the climactic scene looks like it’s in Mordor, not North Georgia. But when you’re whipping up a tidy little ninety-minute ode to bloody backwoods violence, well, sometimes the gears slip a bit. 

Cocaine Bear’s simplicity is its strength. Every scene is shot in bright, brilliant, Reagan-era color palettes. You don’t need to have read a bunch of X-Men comics in the 1980s to understand what’s going on. There’s no Cocaine Bear Cinematic Universe requiring you to study for this movie like you’re preparing to take the SAT. And the post-credits scenes don’t introduce any new characters like Meth Gator. (A missed opportunity, honestly.) 

And at its heart, there’s the grand dame of the picture, the Cocaine Bear herself. When last we see her, she and her cubs are together in the wilds of the Chattahoochee forest, eyeing some new, intrusive tourists with murder still in their eyes. The family that slays together, stays together, right?

All hail Cocaine Bear. And quickly, before she tears your face off.