Fried Barry is based on the 2017 short film of the same name. South African director Ryan Kruger expanded the original short into his first full-length feature film effort, currently showing at Fantasia Fest. The short was a harrowing, but fairly straightforward portrait of addiction. The feature delves into far more surreal territory as it gives the titular Barry both a backstory and a whole new set of problems with which he must contend.
Barry (Gary Green) is a heroin addicted, deadbeat dad who spends his days roughing up people who owe him money, assuming he isn’t busy chasing his own highs. When his wife curses him out for yet another late night, his first reaction is to question the paternity of his child and go have a beer at the local pub. Never one to refuse free drugs, he shoots up with one of his drinking buddies, and wanders off into the Cape Town night. Only this time, aliens abduct him and decide to take his body for a joyride while he’s still, well, fried.
Fried Barry takes a swerve into the territory of both “one crazy night” and road trip films, rather than a straight up sci-fi or horror narrative. No longer in whatever nominal control over himself he may have been, Barry’s alien visitor instead takes him on a walk to the wilder side of humanity, full of sex, drugs and jumpy editing. Neon clubs, oodles of substance abuse, pimps, prostitutes, street gangs, and serial killers all factor into Barry’s strange trip. The excessively intimate probing of the aliens ends up being one of the less atrocious things he manages to run into.
An alien innocent trying to learn about humanity from one of its least sympathetic examples is a great central conceit, and Gary Green is fantastic in a nearly silent role. Barry has very few lines, mostly just repeating back snippets of whatever is said to him. Without much dialog, Gary Green’s body language has to do the heavy lifting. His performance is all twitchy facial expressions and disconnected shuffle, full of wide eyed wonder at a series of events that would be bizarre even to a being that had context for the debauchery transpiring all around them.
The altered states aesthetic of Fried Barry is an interesting mix of tones and visual styles. A faux 18+ content warning opens the film, and there is a break midway for an oversaturated intermission graphic with plenty of flashing lights and vivid color. There’s a constant barrage of sex scenes and drug use, as well as a gooey bit of body horror involving an accelerated pregnancy that carries the whiff of video nasties past.
With due nods to classic exploitation cinema completed, Fried Barry also tosses in some of the visual hallmarks of the titans of 90s MTV. Stephen Du Plessis’ hyper kinetic editing recalls Chris Cunningham’s work for Aphex Twin, as does Haezer’s thumping electronic score. Jonas Åkerlund’s first person POV shots and a bit of Floria Sigismondi inspired moody black and white are also present and accounted for. Ryan Kruger and cinematographer Gareth Place deserve due credit for making such a wide mix of references work, in a way that feels both cohesive and appropriately disorienting for its substance-fueled narrative.
Where Fried Barry falters is the script, or lack thereof. The film was written over three days, and the initial screenplay only contained loose scene breakdowns. The rest was improvised with the cast on set, and it shows. The cleverness of the concept and the visuals start to wear off at about the halfway mark, and Barry’s journey feels more like a series of shorts with a common narrator, rather than a fully finished film.
As Barry moves from club to bar to potential murder victim to mental patient, plot points and characters appear and disappear without much effect on what came before. All of the stand alone set pieces work when taken individually, but eventually all the location changes indicate is the passage of time, rather than a deeper exploration of the themes flirted with in the previous segments.
There are also some discordant elements of bigotry in the film’s first act. Barry’s bar buddy goes on a pointless racist digression about minstrel shows and Mickey Mouse. As this bit of dialog has no bearing on the plot, the drunken rant could have easily been swapped out. While everyone he meets seems attracted to Barry post abduction, a gay man and a transgender sex worker both die for propositioning him. The only other person to die in this film is a serial killer, and there are tons of cisgender female focused sex scenes. In the context of the whole, it makes the two previous deaths read oddly homophobic.
Fried Barry is a frenzied, genre hopping journey, like a mondo film offering a guided tour into the underground of Cape Town for the conspiracy theory set. That said, trippy visual style and a strong central performance aren’t quite enough to hide the fact that the flick lacks the structure to carry its extraterrestrial visitor to a satisfying final destination.
Wicked Rating – 6/10
Director: Ryan Kruger
Writer(s): Ryan Kruger
Stars: Gary Green, Chanelle de Jager,
Release date: March 6, 2020
Studio/Production Company: The Department of Special Projects, Enigma Ace Films
Language: English, Afrikaans
Run Time: 99 minutes