‘Chupa’ (2023) Review: A Touching Film About Saving Endangered Species
“Chupa” is a Netflix movie directed by Jonas Cuaron and released on April 7, 2023. Jonas Cuaron is the son of Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican filmmaker who has won Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography Oscars. “Chupa” is a heartwarming tale of Alejandro, aka Alex (Evan Whitten), who is going through grief because of the death of his father, who died of cancer, and Chupa, or the mythical creature Chupacabra, who, due to the fault of man, has been displaced from his family. Alex lives in Kansas City and studies at Lakewood Middle School, where he doesn’t interact with any of his classmates but engages himself in playing a game on the Game Boy, for which he is called weird and teased with words like ‘Taquito.’ Alex feels out of place and isn’t able to brave this situation at school. Nevertheless, his mother offers him a trip to the magical land of San Javier, Mexico.
The new land, new experiences, new people, and new situations give Alex an opportunity to start all over again. The film is a moving story of how Alex eventually overcomes grief and accepts the loss of his dear father. It is also a tale of how human beings assume things about creatures we do not know about and thus cause disastrous negativity and hatred.
As per folklore legends, Chupacabras attack livestock and drink their blood. They are strange yet interesting animals that are considered to be vampires. Human beings get interested in a creature only when there is something to be gained from exploiting it. Quinn (Christian Slater), working for the US government, wants to prove that these mythical creatures exist and that they can be of benefit to medicine and help the government make a lot of money.
Histories of conquests teach us that we are good at destroying indigeneity. We have still not learned from the past that interfering with people’s lives or the lives of animals in forests leads to displacement and destruction. “Chupa” clearly informs us that due to greed, human beings are ready to invest in searching for even a mythical creature. For San Javier, that mythical creature was a reality that they had learned to coexist with despite the mysterious deaths of goats.
James Cameron’s movie “Avatar” brought the discussion on the corporate exploitation of forests to light, discussing the struggles of indigenous people fighting back against the invaders. Perhaps “Chupa” is not as intense as “Avatar,” but having similar elements, it calls for resistance against the intruding government officials. If a victim and a survivor don’t resist, they will always be considered inferior and taken advantage of.
“Chupa” paints a beautiful picture of San Javier and the unique Mexican wrestling form of the Lucha libre genre. It also emphasizes the importance of visiting our family once in a while, wherever they are situated, so that we do not forget our roots and are proud of our history and our identity. The songs that beautifully merge with the story are touching and soothing; you would love to hear them again and again. Every detail, especially at San Javier, is carefully planned to speak of its cultural diversity and traditions.
The mythical creature is also given not-so-likable physical characteristics but attributes that you will easily fall in love with, just like you would with your pet animal. Chupa attacks when it feels threatened and coos and sings with Alex when it feels comfortable. It means no harm to Alex, or to any other human for that matter because, in one instance, you see it healing Alex when he is wounded. What the creature actually needs is to get back to its family.
The dialogue writers Joe Barnathan, Brendan Bellomo, and Sean Kennedy Moore have excellently been able to shift between the English and Spanish language, and not a moment does one get bugged by the transitions. You can fall in love with the language and also learn one or two words like abuelo, primo, or vamos. Possibly this will silence those people who had issues with the inappropriate title. As a viewer, you can calmly listen to the dialogue that also appeared in the trailer and was a cause of concern regards its translation, and get clarity on the slang term. Shot in various locations in New Mexico, they embody the spirit of the film, and the landscape turns out to be a character in itself, expressing the loneliness and anxiety associated with displacement. Alex’s grandfather, Demian Bichir, a luchador, lives on his farm far from Mexico City. There is peace and calm in the surroundings, except for fear of the unknown due to untoward stories spread about Chupacabras. He lives alone, withdrawing from people and perhaps also trying to heal himself from the loss of his son.
Each of the characters in the film plays a significant role in brightening each other’s lives. When Alex is upset, fearful, and filled with sorrow for the loss of his father, his grandfather, with his immense experience, advises him to let go of his pain and channel the emotions he suppresses by retreating and hiding in the game he plays on the Game Boy. Luna (Ashley Ciarra) and Memo (Nickolas Verdugo) are fun packages, and their presence in the life of their grandfather rejuvenates him. Their company allows their cousin Alex to be himself without being judged. Memo is a cute and confident character to watch. Luna is a musically talented and supportive granddaughter who quickly assumes responsibility whenever needed.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, every single year, there are about 200 to 2000 animal species that go extinct. Thus, “Chupa” adds to those films that spread the word about saving endangered and extinct species. As the movie ends, you feel inspired to save these animals that are at risk. Also, it motivates you to handle the emotions one is feeling at the moment. Alex and his grandfather were able to handle their emotions well and get rid of the sadness and sorrow that came over them. They could also vent out the anger that they had suppressed within themselves. They were able to accept that they had lost something very dear to them: Alex had lost his beloved father, and the grandfather had lost his beloved son. In one beautiful moment in the film, Alex states that whatever he may try to do, he will never be able to bring back his father, but he promises Chupa that since his family is still around, he will help him find them. Thus the adventure to equip Chupa begins.
Unlike other films where a weaker character is shown transforming into a stronger one through training, “Chupa” has very little to offer. Even towards the end, when Chupa returns to his family in the interior forests, one could imagine a lot of drama, but the adrenaline rush episode trips over itself a little. Overall, “Chupa” is a motivational movie that doesn’t fail to create a love for nature that co-exists with us. It is a movie that children will surely remember and be fond of. A story of healing that helps one to move on after one has lost someone very special. It is a feel-good movie that fills the viewer with positivity and the hope that the world is still good out there despite people’s dreams of avarice.