In the end, I’m not entirely sure what to make of South African oddity Fried Barry. Leaping boundaries of horror, science fiction, and gritty realism, among others, it’s certainly a wild, chaotic, immersive ride. And one I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch. I think. It’s the kind of cinematic madness that the Fantasia International Film Festival is tailor made for.
Writer/director Ryan Kruger (an actor making his feature debut in the big chair) begins his film with Barry (Gary Green). He’s a down-on-his-luck junkie looking for a fix or a payday, at odds with his old lady, and generally living a rough, hardscrabble existence as he sinks deeper and deeper into his addiction. This is a dirty world, a grimy, grubby world that practically sweats and has its own smell. It looks like this is going to be a tale of drugs, desperation, and depravity, which it certainly is. But it follows that path deep, deep into the reeds when Barry is abducted by aliens.
Some type of extraterrestrial entity takes over Barry’s body and mind and drives him around like a skin-suit rental car. It pilots its host through the expansive underworld of nightclubs, sex, illicit substances of all kinds, and debauchery of every variety. Fried Barry offers a non-stop assault on the senses as Barry dives headfirst into every bit of sleaze and degeneracy he finds.
About the half-hour mark, the repetitiveness of this trippy voyage starts to wear. It’s unhinged, for sure, but as we track Barry from one scene of wanton decadence to the next, it becomes tiresome and it’s easy to wonder where this is all going. At times it plays almost like a heroin-addicted alien abduction take on Richard Linklater’s Slackers.
But to Fried Barry’s credit, it remains watchable, largely thanks to Green. Traditionally a bit player and a stunt performer, he’s fantastic here in what must have been one strange-ass role to play. The protagonist says almost nothing, wandering through this hectic world with gnashing teeth, eyes so wide they’re about to burst out of his skull, and a mix of awe, terror, and curiosity. A unique-looking dude, with stringy hair, expansive forehead, and deep-etched creases on his face, Green conveys all of this, creating an otherworldly sense of an outsider experiencing the world with fresh eyes.
At times you can’t help but wonder if this is all weirdness simply for the sake of weirdness. (And seriously, everyone wants to fuck this bugging-out weirdo, and this means everyone.) It hints at ideas of insanity and delusion, of examining society from an alien perspective. We get glimpses of man’s inhumanity to our fellows, of rampant institutional brokenness that lets the most vulnerable slip through the cracks, of what it means to be human. But while the movie touches on all of this, it’s all in rather shallow fashion, eschewing depth for eye-catching flourishes and visual pyrotechnics.
Fried Barry does offer an enveloping experience. Kruger and cinematographer Gareth Place, also making his feature debut, place the viewer right there in the thick of the mayhem. Gyrating bodies practically bump against you in nightclub scenes and the stench of back alleys is palpable. It lands on a visceral, all-encompassing level in many ways.
What all of this amounts to? Like I said, I’m not entirely certain. But whatever Fried Barry is, it’s one hell of a time and one not soon forgotten or easily shaken. [Grade: B]
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