REVIEW: Pablo Eskobear-Cocaine Bear rips into theaters with endless drugs and campy fun

The vicious Cocaine Bear stalks its victims through the dense forest. Design by Dia Cohen.

The vicious Cocaine Bear stalks its victims through the dense forest. Design by Dia Cohen.

Dia Cohen

Cocaine Bear, written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Bank, transforms a tragedy that took place in Kentucky and Georgia into an American horror comedy movie that satirizes the international drug trade, as well as interpersonal relationships bound by trauma.

Illuminated by the light reflected from the screen, people’s expressions are marred with anticipation and dread as they await the sight of the “star of the show”, the Cocaine Bear. The movie starts in a quiet and secluded forest, with two hikers strolling through the forest. A few trees down, a bear stands on its hind legs as it shimmies and caresses a tree. Excited about the prospect of seeing a bear, the hikers raise their voices, oblivious to what the future has in store for them.

Apart from the extensive gore, the theme of bonds is often portrayed throughout the movie. Interpersonal bonds are sown through trauma and circumstance throughout the movie, as strangers must work together to escape this vicious bear. These ties also keep most of the characters aware of the detriments of their gluttonous behavior. For others, these bonds keep them levelheaded and resilient amidst the chaos of the woods. Although the movie has been described as a “character-driven thriller inspired by true events that took place in Kentucky in 1985,” the movie satirizes the real story of the bear who consumed fatal amounts of cocaine. 

The film is based on an accident that occurred in 1985 when Andrew Thornton, a former Kentucky narcotics officer, and lawyer, took a plane to retrieve containers of cocaine from Colombia. According to the Tennessean, with the help of his karate instructor and bodyguard, Bill Leonard, the two loaded 400 kilos of cocaine into a Cessna 404 airplane and smuggled the drugs back into the U.S. They were above Florida when they thought they heard radio transmissions indicating that the police were tailing them. Thornton and Leonard made the impromptu decision to shift the plane into autopilot and parachute out. Leonard jumped first and his parachute deployed. Thornton went second and his didn’t. Thornton’s body was later found in a driveway of a Knoxville, Tennessee, house, with more than 75 pounds of cocaine strapped to his body. Leonard lived to tell the tale to The Knoxville News-Sentinel, saying he was tricked into accompanying Thornton. Under the impression that they were going to the Bahamas, Leonard helped Thornton load the bags of cocaine into the plane.  

Although tragic, the consequences of Thornton’s actions didn’t end with his death. The Cessna 404 airplane was later found in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest. A 175-pound black bear surrounded by the 40 opened cocaine containers was found dead close to the downed aircraft. From there, the enraged bear stalks the woods, feasting upon unsuspecting hikers who must band together to survive. Unlike the film, which depicted a frenzied rampage of killing by a delirious bear, the real bear died after about 15 minutes. Today, the same bear is stuffed in Lexington, Kentucky.