Welcome to a strange cinematic trend: bears are invading your screens.
We’ve had snakes on a plane, sharks in tornadoes, and last year was irrevocably the year of the donkey, with our hearts collectively breaking with EO, Jenny in The Banshees of Inisherin, and that poor ass in Triangle of Sadness who got its head bashed in.
Two films released this month confirm the new cinematic dominance of the ursine: Cocaine Bear and Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood & Honey.
These aren’t your cuddly creatures symbolizing warmth, friendship or family. Gone are Baloo, Yogi and Paddington; 2023’s vintage are killer bears, out for guts in the same way Annihilation ’s mutant bear and The Revenant ’s pissed off mama bear were out to gouge. If only this year’s mammals measured up to these two, because spoiler alert: both Cocaine Bear and Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood & Honey are un-bear-able.
Cheap gag, but considering the level of Elizabeth Banks and Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s films, remorse is the last thing I feel. I had to sit through them.
It’s a real shame, as there’s something uniquely exciting and invigorating about going to see some self-conscious B-grade schlock. Not all films have to be awards-worthy or even that good – some just need to be delightfully camp and knowingly debased Friday night trash. These films can be a joy.
However, these two are just hot trash.
Let’s start with the one with the itchy nose.
The year is 1985. A drug smuggler dumps 40 containers of Columbia’s finest from a crashing plane above Chattahoochee National Forest. This prompts an American black bear to ingest the copious amounts of Class A narcotics and go on a rampage.
What’s not to absolutely adore about this pitch? It’s Pablo Escobear vs the world! Plus, it’s based on a real-life incident which saw a 175-pound bear ingest 40 plastic containers of cocaine. (Spoiler: the poor thing died and did not go on a coke-fuelled murder spree.)
However, Elizabeth Banks and screenwriter Jimmy Warden have utterly messed it up and have curled out something that’s not scary, satirical or – heaven forfend – funny. They’ve somehow managed the impossible, considering the promisingly nuts elevator pitch: make Cocaine Bear a crushing bore. Instead of focusing on the bear, they’ve elected to dedicate a lunatic amount of its scant runtime (a taut 95-minutes) to an inane gallery of bland characters – two criminals (Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr.) sent by a trafficker (Ray Liotta, in his final role); two cops (Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Ayoola Smart); a single mum (Keri Russell) searching for her child and friend (Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convery) who have ditched school to stroll in the woods; a park ranger (Margo Martindale); and loads of others who I can’t even be bothered to namecheck at this point, because the movie is supposed to be “Bear Trips Balls On Nose Candy” – not “Sub-Coen Brothers Parodies Spout Sub-Tarantino Banter In The Woods”!
At no point does it matter that the bear is clearly a CG creation or that the gore is too short-lived. But the failure to embrace an unabashedly outrageous premise and not deliver some bonkers thrills is a crime against B-movies.
What the pitch “What if a bear did cocaine?” needed a sure grasp when it came to getting the tonal shifts from comic to gory right. No one needed it to be good – just not tame or unfunny. At the end of the day, this feels like a movie shamelessly designed to draw in audience members on the promise of being part of an internet-based cultural conversation about that film, only for the one decent joke to be: they made a film called Cocaine Bear. Never since the aforementioned Snakes on a Plane has a film failed to live up to its gonzo title so badly.
Or its poster.
Or its promising trailer.
And before you ask, no – it’s not so-bad-it’s-good and still worth a gander while intoxicated. Stay in school, kids.
Onto the other ursine…
This one hasn’t been railing lines but has gone down the slasher route.
When it was announced, I was initially excited at the thought of Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood & Honey. An anthropomorphic Winnie and Piglet go full Michael Myers in the woods after their friend Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) grows up and abandons them in the Hundred Acre Wood? Yes please.
Not that I was expecting it to be any good – just cheap subversive fun.
After all, the copyright on A.A. Milne’s Winnie-The-Pooh has expired, so why not stick it to Disney (who control much of the IP) and make a cheap, borderline punk horror movie? Now that’s subversion!
Sadly, this is a painfully generic wasted opportunity, the sort of incompetently made horror film which – like Cocaine Bear – commits the cardinal sin of wasting a damn fine premise and being no fun. It ticks off just about every horror trope going and does none of them justice; the rules aren’t kept to; Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s staggeringly inept script makes Tommy Wiseau seem misunderstood; and the unimaginative kills genuinely made me nod off at one point.
Again, like Cocaine Bear, this one is just a cynical headline-grabber because the slasher concept is so far removed from the wholesome original creation. Nothing more. The only thing going for it is a scene in which Winnie karate-chops one of his victim’s hands off. That was cool. But not enough to redeem this bear-minimum drivel that you can file under: ‘Oh (don’t) bother.’
As you’ve probably guessed from my shorter review of this film, Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood & Honey is significantly worse than Cocaine Bear. If you feel compelled to watch one of the two, you’ll be less disappointed by the cocaine huffing ursine.
But please don’t.
Life is short, both are jokes without punchlines, and neither film comes close to heralding the return of camp horror to the screens.
Worse, giving these films any cash influx will give both Banks and Frake-Waterfield dipsh*t hopes for sequels. The latter has already expressed an interest in starting a fairy tale horror franchise, while the former has already spoken about how a Cocaine Bear follow-up could work.
Crush these dreams by staying out of the woods, safe in the knowledge that bears are not this year’s donkeys.