Who is Barry, and why is he fried? These are two very important questions that director Ryan Kruger’s South African debut feature, FRIED BARRY, strives to answer.
Aside from being a terrible husband and neglectful parent, Barry spends most of his time getting cooked on heroin (hence the “fried” qualifier) and being a general lowlife. He wanders the streets looking for his next fix, and one evening is unexpectedly abducted by extraterrestrial beings. These aliens are thorough, making sure to probe every orifice before stealing Barry’s likeness and taking to the streets incognito. The Barry-shaped alien promptly hits the seedy side of town, ingesting an industrial-grade amount of drugs and partaking in all pleasures of the flesh it happens across.
This, right here, is a unique piece of work. Throughout the years, South African cinema has been presented through some very odd lenses by filmmakers, and if Neill Blomkamp was the country’s answer to Paul Verhoeven, then Ryan Kruger is their David Lynch… but on massive quantities of uppers. In addition to the strikingly unusual visage of its lead actor, FRIED BARRY is packed to the brim with bizarre imagery and little details that will please any fan of surreal cinema. As the alien roams the streets of Cape Town, this becomes less “fish out of water”, and more “fish out of acid”.
Kruger barely gives a minute to breathe, with a frenetic drug-fuelled pace and editing to match. I had flashbacks to Stone’s psychedelic approach on Natural Born Killers, which was similarly soaked in a neon grunge, and every surface (and character) is covered in at least a layer of filth, both literal and metaphorical.
Everyone Barry comes across is uncomfortably and inordinately attracted to him. His presence seems to have an aphrodisiac-like effect, leading to a series of unconventional encounters with human sexuality and relationships. It’s here where the film finds its heart. Gary Green is the ideal actor for Barry, who against all odds, grounds the film despite his semi-skullet, sunken cheeks, and dead-eyed stare. He’s mesmerising, and manages to pull you through the madness.
A little over the halfway mark, Kruger grants the audience a brief intermission, and the film switches gears. With a shift to a more vignette structure, it becomes obvious that the script was written quickly (apparently in three days) and becomes “The Misadventures of Barry” more than gelling as a coherent piece. The project’s origins as a short film may be to blame, with the concept perhaps working better in short bursts. As a feature, this is where the story sags, but it’s not too painful, with Kruger managing to tie it up before too long.
FRIED BARRY is one of those films that sits outside of genre definition, mainly because “weird” is not a genre. Is it a drug/sex comedy? I guess so. A surreal one? Definitely. But it’s hard to pigeonhole. What I can say is that if you enjoyed oddities like Bad Boy Bubby or The Greasy Strangler, FRIED BARRY will be right up your filth-encrusted alley. A smile was plastered on my face throughout. It rarely lets up. It’s unique, uncomfortable, creative, and joins a small crowd of films that it can even be remotely compared to. If you’re looking for something different, then look no further than FRIED BARRY.
What a great name for a film.
You can view FRIED BARRY on-demand during this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, which will be taking place online from August 20 through September 2, 2020.