Get ready for the stuff of legends – literally. The chupacabra has been a part of Latin American folklore for decades. The name “chupacabra” means “goat-sucker” in Spanish, and the creature is said to feed on the blood of livestock, particularly goats, sheep, and cows.
The legend of the chupacabra continues to fascinate and intrigue people around the world. Despite numerous reported sightings and a wealth of stories and legends surrounding the creature, no conclusive evidence of the chupacabra’s existence has ever been found. Until now, that is.
Filmmaker Jonás Cuarón flips the familiar horror trope on its back and opts instead for a family-friendly version of this legendary creature with Chupa, which streams on Netflix on April 7. It’s a great rebrand for a once-feared goat-sucking monster.
CHUPA tells the story of Alex, a shy and introverted 13-year-old boy (played by the talented Evan Whitten) who travels from Kansas City to Mexico to meet his extended family for the very first time. And boy, does he get more than he bargained for.
While getting to know his grandfather (the legendary Demián Bichir), cousin Memo (the wrestling-obsessed Nickolas Verdugo), and cousin Luna (the fearless and hip Ashley Ciarra), Alex stumbles upon a mystical creature hiding under his grandpa’s shed. It’s a young chupacabra cub, known for its fearsome reputation as a livestock-killer.
Alex soon discovers that his new friend, “Chupa,” has a secret history with his family and is being hunted down by a dogged and dangerous scientist named Richard Quinn (the one and only Christian Slater). To save his beloved and misunderstood new friend, Alex embarks on a crazy adventure that will push the limits of his newfound family ties.
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Chupa is directed by Jonás Cuarón (the mastermind behind Desierto) and produced by the talented team at 26th Street Pictures (Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe of The Christmas Chronicles fame). It’s a nostalgic journey through the world of myth and memory, while delivering excitement, laughter, and lots of heart.
The talented cast includes Demián Bichir, Evan Whitten, Christian Slater, Ashley Ciarra, Nickolas Verdugo, Adriana Paz, Gerardo Taracena, and Julio Cesar Cedillo.
Furry Folklore Comes to Life
On many levels, Chupa is a personal passion project for Cuarón. “I grew up in Mexico, and the Chupacabras legend started in Puerto Rico, but then people in Mexico where I was growing up started saying that they were seeing the Chupacabras,” he said in a recent interview.
“As a kid, it was so exciting. As a kid, it’s fun to believe that there’s something magical out there. And even the fact that it’s a little bit scary makes it more fun. Like, I think as a kid, you want to believe that there’s magic out there, and a little bit of scariness is also fun to believe in.”
The film explores the importance of family and the power of storytelling, particularly through the eyes of grandparents. As oral historians, grandparents have a unique gift of passing down family narratives, retelling folklore, and imparting unforgettable life lessons to younger generations.
Cuarón, who grew up surrounded by two big Mexican families, recognizes the vital role grandparents play in keeping family traditions alive. “I saw that it was a story that turned the myth of the Chupacabras on its head and turned it into a family adventure. For me, that legend was very important growing up,” Cuarón said. “And so the possibility of doing a family adventure movie that I could share with my kids, but that also spoke about the context I grew up in, was very exciting.”
“Everything you need to know about life is right there in our parents and grandparents’ experiences,” Demián Bichir told USA Today, who plays the grandfather in the film.
Through the character of Alex, the film explores the interpersonal journey of reconnecting with family and roots, particularly after experiencing grief and growing pains. Bichir emphasizes the importance of trusting in family to overcome these struggles and believes that the message is universal. “Chupa” is not just a Latino or Mexican film, but a story that transcends cultures and speaks to the power of family connections.
Sit, Stay, Fetch
Evan Whitten, the young powerhouse who plays Alex, definitely had a favorite co-star during filming, but it wasn’t who you’d expect.
“Sometimes he (Jonás) would use a doll or a tennis ball, but my favorite was working with a dog named Harper, who actually reminded me of my dog Jack,” Whitten tells Parentology. “He made it easier to picture Chupa. Harper was definitely better trained than my dog. (Sorry, Jack.)”
Whitten tells Parentology that he had immense fun filming the entire film, but especially loved the riskier moments.
“At one point, I was suspended from a crane and dropped about a hundred feet, or I would be hanging from a pipe over a canyon,” Whitten says. “It was actually more of a rush than an amusement park ride, and I loved it.”
“I was really surprised about how fun and easy it is to direct kids,” Cuarón added in a recent interview, saying that harnessing a child’s imagination comes naturally, and brings out their best work. “Acting is just playing up a story, and kids like to play. It also shows the importance of (basking) in the magic that there is in the world.”
Christian Slater plays a nefarious scientist who wants to exploit the misunderstood creature’s powers (Chupa vitamins, anyone?) In real life, Slater was in awe of his young co-stars (both human and animal), and of Whitten in particular.
“Jonas really wanted everything to be perfect a lot of the time, and so these guys had to jump into a bale of hay maybe thirty, forty times,” said Slater in a recent interview. “I mean, it was incredible. And who wouldn’t want to jump in a big pile of hay? Yeah, it’s a very real stunt, and these guys were extraordinarily brave. He (Whitten) did it all. He’s like Tom Cruise.”
Chupa as Legacy
CHUPA is, above all else, a love letter from Cuarón to legend, to his own children, and to the popular family adventure films of the 90’s, all of which he says inspired him.
“I have two kids. One is 15 and the other one is nine. And during the pandemic, I just spent the pandemic locked down with them, watching movies,” he said. “I watched so many family adventure-type movies that I actually grew up with, like E.T., Gremlins, Goonies. And so I suddenly became very excited about doing a movie that I could share with them. A movie that was like those movies that I grew up with and that then I was reconnecting with them.”
Cuarón said he watched E.T. nearly a dozen times during filming. “What would flatter me the most would be to meet someone 20 years from now and tell me that growing up, ‘Chupa’ really marked them. Because that’s what movies like ‘E.T.’ did for my generation, so I would obviously love to also do that for others.”
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Slater said there’s something for everyone in this family-friendly romp, and some very valuable takeaways, such as the importance of family and strength of character.
“Evan’s character, Alex, is a very identifiable, heartfelt character, who wants to do the right thing,” he said. “I think that’s a good example for other kids to see this kind of movie. At the end of the day, the underlying story, it’s all about love and connection and family, and that’s really what binds all of us together.”
Whitten definitely believes in the power of family and friendship. “When you’re feeling alone or going through a tough time, you can turn to those who care about you,” he tells us. “For me personally, it reminded me that my family will always be there for me.”