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15 Apr 2023


NextImg:How ‘Cocaine Bear’ Director Elizabeth Banks Made That Ambulance Scene So Good

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Cocaine Bear

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There are plenty of scenes in Cocaine Bear, which is now streaming on Peacock, featuring a bear hopped up on cocaine and killing people. But there’s one scene in particular that stands out among the crowd of powdered stimulants and bloodied guts, and that’s the Cocaine Bear ambulance scene. Honestly, no shade to the rest of the movie, but if you wanted to just skip that sequence—which comes about mid-way through the film—you’d be set.

The premise of Cocaine Bear is simple: A black bear ingests a bunch of cocaine, gets cocaine superpowers, and mauls a bunch of people. Loosely based on a true story, the film is set in 1985 in a national forest in Georgia. Director Elizabeth Banks, in an inspired move, cast character actress Margo Martindale as a tough-as-nails park ranger named Liz. Liz manages to survive her first confrontation with the coked up bear, but she’s not so lucky the second time around. After accidentally shooting a few innocent men—hey, it happens, tensions are high—the bear gets Liz good. But she’s not dead yet.

Cue the arrival of two paramedics, who think they are responding to a call about a possible concussion. Beth (played by Kahyun Kim) and Tom (played by TikTok star Scott Seiss) are not at all prepared for the horrific scene that greets them when they arrive at the park ranger station. Dead bodies, blood, guts—the works. But wait! Someone’s still alive! It’s character actress Margo Martindale! She’s severely wounded, but still breathing.

Beth, who is slightly better at her job than Tom, does her best to get Ranger Liz into the ambulance. Unfortunately, that’s when the cocaine bear decides to come back for seconds. What follows is far and away the best action sequence in the film. While Beth is escorting Liz to the ambulance, the 400-pound bear has Tom pinned down under a door. Its bloodied mouth is slobbering with guts and drool, as it growls in Tom’s face. Tom’s manages to hit the bear with his medical duffel bag, which obviously inflicts no physical damage to the the beast. It’s a freakin’ bear. But luckily, this bear is also an addict, and the last time it encountered a duffel bag, that bag was brimming with blow.

With the bear distracted by the potential cocaine, Tom manages to escape. Despite sound advice from Ranger Liz to leave Tom behind, the far-too-good-for-this-bullshit Beth has left the ambulance idling, waiting for Tom. Tom comes running out and screams at Beth to drive. She does. To make the scene even more fun, the opening notes of Depeche Mode’s 1981 hit “Just Can’t Get Enough” begins to play, and the chase is on.

Now this is the campy, fun horror we were promised in the Cocaine Bear trailer. Seiss, who gained popularity on TikTok for his humorous angry rants, is equally funny on the big screen in his bumbling panic. “Stop yelling at me!” he cries, as Margo Martindale wails at him “to close the fucking door, you dumb ass!” (Fun fact: Martindale improvised that line! She really is the best character actress.)

Unfortunately, Tom is too slow. The bear, with one impossibly giant leap, jumps into the back of the ambulance. And then it absolutely destroys everyone. It’s bloody, it’s brutal, and there are no survivors. Character actress Margo Martindale, who is 71, gets a particularly disgusting death: She is flung out of the back of the ambulance, and scrapes her face on the side of the road, like cheese in a cheese grater.

In an interview with Vulture, director Elizabeth Banks said she had a specific inspiration for Martindale’s on-screen death. “You know how when you’re 7 years old on your bike and you scrape your knee on the pavement?” Banks said. “Everybody can relate to that feeling. So I want one of these kills to be relatably horrifying.”

Banks went on to explain how the production built a rig specifically for the shot of Martindale flying out of the ambulance, “a movable wall for her to stand on that we could angle backwards and forwards. And we strapped her to it like a gurney.” Then the production did tests by shoving real gurneys out of real vans to see what would actually happen. “It didn’t just bounce and flip over; it kind of bounced and fell down,” Banks explained.”That detail ended up in the movie.”

In other words, it’s no accident that this scene is by far the stand-out scene of the movie. Banks and her team put in the work, to make sure every detail was just right. The Cocaine Bear Oscar campaign begins now.