Film Review: Chupa
Director: Jonás Cuarón
26th Street Pictures and Pimienta Films
Streaming on Netflix: 04.07
Thanks to the The Fabelmans, we’ve been hearing a lot of top-tier directors, including Denis Villeneuve and Guillermo del Toro, express how deeply the works of Steven Spielberg impacted them. Jonás Cuarón takes it a step further with his new film, Chupa, which wears its influences as a badge of honor.
Alex (Evan Whitten) is a 13-year-old Mexican-American boy who is coping with the death of his father. Alex’s mother sends him on a summer vacation to Mexico to meet his grandfather, Chava (Demián Bichir, The Hateful Eight, Godzilla vs. Kong), and his cousins, Memo (Nickolas Verdugo) and Luna (Ashley Ciarra). Alex soon discovers a mythical creature living under his grandfather’s shed, which he recognizes as a chupacabra from legends told by the locals.
Though the full-grown creatures are said to be fearsome beasts that feed on the blood of livestock, little “Chupa” is a cute cub who has been separated from his pack. Alex introduces Chupa to his cousins, and they agree to help him hide the animal from Chava and a scientist, Richard Quinn (Christian Slater), who is snooping around the property and hunting for the fabled creatures. Quinn is bad news, and it’s up to Alex and his family to get Chupa back to his own family deep in the desert.
Chupa is Cuarón’s combined love letter to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park, with a plot that falls neatly into the genre imitating the former and a creature feature, sci-fi adventure element that echoes the latter. The constant visual nods assure us that this is an homage, not a ripoff, and to call them Easter eggs would imply that you have to look for them. This is more like having the Easter Bunny come running toward you, toss his basket aside and start humping your leg while shouting “Steven!” in unbridled ecstasy. Between the chupacabra claw that Quinn carries with him, the multiple Jurassic Park posters and toys in Alex’s room and the nearly shot-for-shot restaging of one minor sequence from Jurassic Park, subtlety isn’t part of this movie.
Chupa is to Spielberg what movies such as What Lies Beneath and The Woman in the Window are to Alfred Hitchcock. At times it begs the question, “Why am I watching this instead of the original?” A lot of the answer lies in representation. Cuarón’s film is calculated to appeal to Latinx kids who don’t get to see themselves represented in those films, and Chupa more than justifies itself on that level. It’s also fast paced and fun, and the visual effects are superb. While Cuarón isn’t in the same league as his two-time Oscar winning father, director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Roma), he’s got talent. His enthusiasm for the material makes it hard not to get swept up in the fun of it all.
Chupa has its heart firmly in the right place, and as live action, family-friendly entertainment goes, it’s above average. It’s also less intense than either of the two films it’s trying so hard to emulate, and as such it’s a good stepping stone movie if you’re itching to introduce your little ones to Spielberg-like blockbusters. Chupa gets a recommendation from me, though I do hope that Cuarón decides to borrow another page from Spielberg next time and tries harder to stretch himself as a filmmaker by giving us something we’ve never seen before. –Patrick Gibbs
Read more on Steven Spielberg films:
Film Review: The Fabelmans
Film Review: Ready Player One
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