Creature feature films have a long and lucrative history in cinema, usually err on the bloodiest side of things. But the Netflix one chupa takes a vampiric mythical beast and turns it into the world’s cutest little griffin-cat-koala, with a pinch of Spielberg on top.
Director Jonás Cuarón centers his family fantasy film around the terrifying Latin American legend of the chupacabra — the literal translation of the Spanish word “chupacabra” is “goat sucker”.(Opens in a new tab) But instead of a horror movie in which many goat souls are defeated, chupa is a sweet, thoughtful adventure about family, celebrating heritage and knocking the bird down on the villains who would chase magical creatures for money.
What is chupa about?
Set in 1996, chupa centers on Alex (Evan Whitten), a 13-year-old kid from Kansas City who finds himself embroiled in a wild adventure while visiting his family in Mexico. Alex stumbles upon an oddly adorable (and thankfully not too bloodthirsty) winged creature lurking in the barn of his abuelo Chava, a delightfully melodramatic former luchador played by Demián Bichir. The young chupacabra is all alone, scared and separated from his family.
Alex and his cousins Memo (Nickolas Verdugo) and Luna (Ashley Ciarra) must protect Chupa from a conniving scientist working for ambiguous investors. As Richard Quinn, Christian Slater is moderately bad, with serious Alan Grant vibes; he’s curious about Chupa as a scientist, but his employers have far more nefarious reasons for catching the little creature.
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chupa takes a vampiric mythical beast and makes it adorable.
Of course, the real star of the show is Chupa herself. Cuarón and the visual effects team created a very cute take on the legendary being, rumored to have impressed the director as a child. “Chupacabras (were) first seen in the early 90’s in Puerto Rico. After that there were sightings of the creature all over Latin America… This creature was believed to feed on the blood of goats,” Cuarón said. Netflix Tudu(Opens in a new tab).
Instead of a hairless, bloodsucking monster, Chupa is a furry, twittering, chirping, cooing bear cub that looks like a cat-meets-koala-meets-griffin, bounding all over the joint before letting out deep screeches. and dismal for his mother.
Is it a cat? Is it a koala? It’s Chupa!
Surprisingly for a creature feature, the film almost immediately reveals the tiny chupacabra, with the first glimpse of the feathered little friend quivering and moaning under the flashlights of evil scientists. The film’s opening scenes, in which the chupacabras are chased by the villains, are reminiscent of movie monster expeditions like The Mummyor the Sea Whip sequence in shadow and bone Season 2 — a group of clumsy intruders disturb the lair of a wild animal with the intention of dominating or killing it. On top, chupa reminds us that humans would inevitably treat magical creatures like absolute crap.
Slater is rightfully PG Evil as an antagonist. chupa keeps it pretty vague as to who exactly these bad guys are – just impatient investors who want their precious beast caught and delivered. Slater leans into the mustache-twisting villain as Quinn, but keeps it clean for younger viewers. “Son of a…” is as curse filled as this script is.
chupa immerse yourself in the power of family and embrace your heritage
One of the central themes running through chupa is the disconnect between Alex’s life and identity in America and his family heritage in Mexico. Cuarón establishes early in the film that Alex is being bullied at school and is ashamed of his Mexican heritage in Kansas City, enduring racist taunts and harassment for such everyday things as his lunch. Alex brings this frustration home, venting his anger on his mother and not enjoying the trip to San Javier, stating, “I don’t care about Mexico, okay? I don’t care about music. I don’t care about music. food.”
Alex’s renunciation of his Mexican heritage is steeped in social shame, as he laments, “Nobody speaks Spanish in Kansas City.” He reactively dives into seemingly all-American interests like Goosebumps, Beavis and Buttheadmcdonalds, jurassic park, Ninja Turtles, Looney Tunes, and video games – only to realize that his younger cousins in Mexico like the same things too. Luna chastises Alex when he’s surprised she’s obsessed with the Beastie Boys: “What? You think Mexicans only listen to mariachi?”
All along chupa, Alex’s trip to San Javier sees him slowly appreciating, then celebrating his Mexican heritage – including his abuelo Chava’s fame as a famous lucha libre legend. When Alex lands, Chava instantly speaks to him in Spanish and is disappointed to find that his grandson does not speak it, despite his father’s attempts to teach him.
“He tried, I didn’t see the point,” says Alex.
“What?” Shava replies. “It’s your legacy, something to be proud of.”
Demián Bichir as Chava, Evan Whitten as Alex, Ashley Ciarra as Luna and Nickolas Verdugo as Memo.
Credit: Tony Rivetti Jr./Netflix
chupa includes more than a few nods to Spielberg.
chupa is undeniably imbued with what Mashable’s Caitlin Welsh describes as “Amblincore” and the cinematic characteristics of Steven Spielberg; if you don’t think about AND the extra-terrestrial while you’re watching this, you might want to revisit the 1982 director’s classic. Alex’s hookup with Chupa in the barn, learning to sing and howl together, shares undeniable parallels with Elliott (Henry Thomas) and ET , and Memo teaching baby chupacabra to fly sounds like Gertie (Drew Barrymore) teaching ET how to talk.
Director Cuarón acknowledges Spielberg’s influence on Chupra, Also. “I’ve always been a huge fan of HEY and I believe stories like this are so powerful because they play on the idea that children are misunderstood by adults,” Cuarón said. Netflix Tudu(Opens in a new tab). “Chupa may be a monster, but he’s the only one who truly understands what Alex is going through. The bond between a boy and a creature is so pure, like with a pet, that it transcends language.”
Ahh, the old creature hidden in the barn/garage setup.
Cuarón makes direct reference to the Hollywood director’s work through props: Alex’s room is filled with figurines and posters of jurassic parkas well as a plush mogwai of Gremlins. Moments in Carlos Rafael Rivera’s whimsical score sound nearly identical to “Across the Stars”, Anakin and Padme’s theme from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones(Opens in a new tab) by John Williams, Spielberg’s longtime favorite composer. Plus, thanks to cinematographer Nico Aguilar, chupa is filled with both windshield shots and moments showing the cast in achievement, awe, or wonder, all of which could be considered nods to “The Spielberg Face”:
As an evil scientist, Slater has several little Spielberg moments: when he chases the mom chupacabra and her pup in the film’s opening, he picks up a claw in a stinky moment The velociraptor monologue by Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in jurassic park(Opens in a new tab). Later, when clients arrive by helicopter to check on their investment, throwing Quinn’s papers everywhere, it seems like a direct nod to John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) dusty evocative entrance to the dig site.(Opens in a new tab)
Literally Dr. Alan Grant.
One of Spielberg’s signatures is also themes around absent fatherhood and loss (see: HEY, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Hang), and you better believe chupa tick that one. Alex mourns the loss of his father, which fuels his character’s arc through the story to find support from his family.
East chupa worth watching?
chupa is a very cute fantasy adventure and Spielberg-like creature feature that tackles deeper themes of heartbreak, heritage, and family. While it doesn’t reinvent the genre, the film keeps it simple and effective, letting its cast create a real connection with a mythical CGI beast. Come for the sweet goat sucker, stay for some truly heartwarming family time.