Viewers beware: this one is not for the faint of heart — or the weak of stomach.
But fans of giddy, gonzo science-fiction will find plenty to chew on in this gloriously unhinged feature debut from South Africa’s Ryan Kruger, a music-video director expanding his three-minute short of the same name.
Billed by its director as “a Ryan Kruger thing,” as if to signal its overwhelming strangeness upfront, this fluid-drenched trip through the grotty, bombed-out bowels of Cape Town is named after its deeply bizarre tour guide.
The movie is Fried Barry, and at first, the titular Barry – played by bug-eyed newcomer Gary Green, whose skeletal yet wildly expressive features are the film’s best special effect – isn’t the kind of protagonist one imagines wanting to follow anywhere. Violent, mean-spirited, and hooked on heroin, he abuses his wife and neglects their child – whenever he can be bothered to crawl home from his typical network of dive bars and drug dens, that is.
One day, after a particularly aggressive bender, Barry’s abducted by aliens, who conduct disgustingly invasive experiments before dropping the unlucky bastard back on Earth. Only, it’s not really Barry they’re leaving behind. An alien consciousness has hijacked his headspace, Body Snatchers-style, and soon hits the streets to take in all that Cape Town has to offer.
At first, that means reveling in the city’s sticky, sweaty excesses, as Barry innocently ingests a dealer’s entire stash of MDMA and hits a strobe-lit nightclub, convulsing wildly enough on the dance floor to score a one-night stand with a fellow clubgoer, then a more fateful encounter with a neighborhood sex worker. But Fried Barry only gets stranger from there, conjuring visions of Starman crossed with Street Trash as this extraterrestrial interloper finds himself pitted against the foulest impulses of humanity at its worst.
Kruger’s original short showed a heroin addict tweaking out in a warehouse; this body-horror expansion of that idea surpasses it almost immediately in terms of harsh, chaotic energy – not to mention the range of drugs Barry consumes. Visually, Fried Barry favors sickly blues, reds, and yellows, as Gareth Place’s cinematography mirrors the sensory overload of a junkie careening between chemically altered highs and lows.
The film’s frenzied editing, meanwhile, owes a debt to Chris Cunningham’s work with the British electronic musician Aphex Twin. At times, Fried Barry feels closest to one of their productions, sending the audience skittering across the surface of some foreign planet in the grip of a consciousness-shifting acid trip. Haezer’s bass-heavy synth score only heightens this sense of throbbing menace, while drawing the audience into Barry’s contorted headspace.
Kruger’s clearly done his homework — references abound to Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby, Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage, and Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, all classics in their own respective genres — but he’s far too attuned to his own weirdo wavelength to consider copying anyone else’s.
Jonathan Glazer’s unsettling masterpiece Under the Skin, another clear influence, centered on an extraterrestrial entity that assumed the form of a beautiful woman (Scarlett Johannson) in order to wander the rainy Scottish Highlands and entrap young men for her own mysterious purposes. But the alien inhabiting Barry, in contrast, doesn’t appear to want much more than to observe, drinking in the city’s squalid sprawl with a newborn’s curiosity.
The profane genius of Kruger’s approach is in how he uses this alien’s outsider perspective to investigate a vast spectrum of human behavior, ranging from the horrifically depraved to the refreshingly decent. For every low-life Barry encounters in his travels, from marauding junkies and escaped mental patients to human traffickers and pedophiles, he remains quietly vigilant enough to also catch the moments of tender humanity that survive in such a crowded hellscape.
What would human society look like to aliens seeing it for the first time? And what would they think of how badly we treat those barely hanging on along its fringes? Fried Barry may revel in its grimy, grotesque touches, but it’s B-movie exploitation with a huge heart and unexpected conscience — the kind that will give any adventurous genre fan plenty to think about outside of all the midnight-movie madness.
Fried Barry is streaming exclusively on Shudder.