Elizabeth Banks Says Cocaine Bear Has Some Complex Themes, But 'Lives Up To The Title'

If "Cocaine Bear" doesn't thrill you just from its title alone, rest assured, director Elizabeth Banks (of "The Hunger Games" fame, director of "Charlie's Angels") promises that while the movie surely does "live up to its title," there are stronger themes underneath the surface of her film just waiting to be discovered by audiences.

"Cocaine Bear" is inspired, but not completely based on a true story. In 1985, a drug runner dropped an entire duffel bag full of cocaine into a forest which was then consumed by a giant American black bear. In real life, it was enough cocaine to kill the bear then and there. But in Banks' film, it sends the bear on a drug-fueled, murderous rampage — uniting an oddball group of cops, criminals, teenagers, and tourists who find themselves in a Georgia forest fighting for their lives.

"You know, it's a bear high on cocaine attacking people! But it's also a really fun character piece," Banks opens up about her new horror comedy to TotalFilm Magazine. "It's about a great group of people coming together who are very much in over their heads. Everybody is going after the drugs, and nobody realizes that the bear got there first."

Nature, mothers, daughters, and the war on drugs

So, outside of the film's inherently humorous premise, what makes "Cocaine Bear" such a particularly compelling story to Banks? The actor-turned-director has actually been very clear about her inspirations so far, from Raimi to Spielberg, and taking away from films like "Jaws," it was important to her that even though they're in the center of a monster movie, all of her characters felt like real people. Like "Jurassic Park" before it, there's a running theme of parenthood throughout "Cocaine Bear."

"One of the surprising themes of the film is parenting. The film is very much about fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters, and protecting your cubs," Banks shared with TotalFilm. "That's one of the things that drew me to it as a mom, this story of how to be the best version of a parent."

The time period of the film is also a significant piece of the puzzle for Banks and one that she heavily aimed to criticize — the '80s were a significant point in America's failed war on drugs. Banks went on to describe how this plays into the bear's revenge story:

"[...] the war on drugs was really ramped up in the '80s. This film takes place in 1985, which is the height of all these programmes to combat crack in America. So many of those policies went sideways, and this bear was collateral damage. Then the other thing is about nature itself. We, as humans, with our hubris, feel that we can control nature. [But] if you f*** with nature, nature will f*** with you."

'I have delivered a film that lives up to the title'

It's safe to say Banks has lots of faith in Jimmy Warden's original screenplay. She describes the film as the idealistic kind of blockbuster — reaching out to a wide audience with just enough sincerity and intelligence to chew on past the more commercial elements. Despite all the strong thematic work and deeper layers to the film, Banks wants to make it clear: if you're just seeking a crowd-pleasing horror comedy, then look no further than her newest film. "If you want to let go of everything in your life for 95 minutes, this is a great way to do that. It's an incredible adventure," Banks said.

While "Cocaine Bear" is Banks' third feature film, it is her first original movie that is not associated with a pre-existing franchise. In a sense, this marks a proper reintroduction to Banks as a director and a creative voice. Banks' enthusiasm and personal attachment to the project are evident, even if she has some fears about letting it go to the public:

"There are some really beautiful messages in it. It's been fun to see people relate to the movie. It's terrifying [when a film is finished and out of your hands]. That's my horror movie right there. There's only so much that I can control. All that being said, I'm really proud of [it]. I can sleep well at night knowing that I did my job well, and that if audiences want to see a movie called 'Cocaine Bear,' I have delivered a film that lives up to the title."

"Cocaine Bear" hits theaters on February 24, 2023.