By Elias Savada.
This is one of the most unusual alien visitation films you’ll ever watch. Especially if you don’t give any thought to why the other-worldly presence was careless enough to pick Barry for its stopover on Earth.”
The 3:44-minute South African short Fried Barry is an acid trip disguised as an intense, short film – and a good promo piece for not doing drugs. It featured stuntman/extra/now star Gary Green and was billed as A Ryan Kruger Thing. Now morphed into a much longer (97-minute) South African horror comedy (of sorts), Green is again commanding center stage as the eponymous drug-addled guy on one hell of a bender in Cape Town. Kruger is again doing the helming and scripting, as well as producing with James C. Williamson. While some of the technicians have been traded out (Gareth Place is the cinematographer, Monica Rosie handles production design), back for another heroin-laced joyride are composer/sound designer Haezer and editor Stephen Du Plessis.
While the film is Kruger’s feature directorial debut, he’s been in show business for 20 years. He spent most of his first decade as an actor in film and on tv (one of his first roles was as a drug dealer), then began directing the first of more than two dozen shorts and music videos with 2009’s The Screen Behind the Mirror. He’s been a mainstay of the South African music video scene for over a decade and his jarringly stylish shooting techniques in this new film (available on Shudder) often remind me of filmmakers Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch. Imagine El Topo reimagined as a horror film. Swap out the Mexican desert for the shadier side of South Africa’s second-most populous city. They both make about the same amount of avant-garde sense.
Of course, Fucked-Up Barry might be just as good a title. He’s high as a kite when he returns home to his shrill wife (Chanelle de Jager) and a son he thinks belongs to someone else. Mr. Useless walks out on his family moments later. Kruger has decided that poor, delusional Barry needs an uplifting moment, and that brings the spotlight on a probing, hallucinogenic experience – the cosmic arrival of an extraterrestrial personality moving into the worst example of our species. It’s a sobering moment for all around him as this often-quarrelsome character becomes silent, lost, and a victim of the harsh world around him. It’s 1984’s The Brother from Another Planet without the bounty hunters.
In other words, this is one of the most unusual alien visitation films you’ll ever watch. Especially if you don’t give any thought to why the other-worldly presence was careless enough to pick Barry for its stopover on Earth (how advanced can its civilization be?).
Plenty of misogynistic and even some homophobic dialogue is dished out in this cacophonous, blue-collar, smoke-filled-disco-room fever dream. Turning up the beat and the strobe lights, Kruger pushes his weird piece to bizarre heights with some rough sexual activity in the club’s men room. And rough as in alien rough. Bloody rough. Let the (occasional) splatter begin.
Despite Barry’s inability to speak (he can sometimes mimic to his advantage), he’s oddly a magnet for hookups, as his out-of-this-world body gyrations on the dance floor attract one woman ready for some more fun. But just as you think this might lead somewhere, the scene ends.
It’s quickly obvious that Fried Barry doesn’t really have a plot.
Let’s call this a road movie, albeit one where it’s protagonist/antagonist/whatever is going to wander the neon-lit city streets and have a series of absurdist sketches, including a quickie with a prostitute (Blanka Hartenstein), healing a stranger, running from a chainsaw-wielding maniac, being locked in a loony bin, and passing a few beats in a hospital. He/It barely knows what food is, or where to put it. So, I guess that’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, but in the darkest sense.
In a way, it feels like the film was scripted after it was filmed. Actually, according to an interview with Kruger, “I just got the idea the one night and I knew that this was the film to make. I spent 3 days writing a brief scene break down. And a month later I was shooting the feature.” Adds IMDb: “Most of the film’s dialogue and blocking was improvised or workshopped on set.” Yup, feels it. Pieced together with scotch tape, too.
When Barry lands in that loony bin sequence, the film goes cuckoo trying to regain some footing. One of the patients, Ronald (Sean Cameron Michael), claims to be a time traveler. Somehow the place comes under siege and Ronald, his onion-sandwich-loving friend Martini (Joe Vaz), and Barry move through the hallways as toilet paper gets tossed about (because that’s what lunatics do, right?). As if the film hasn’t kicked its audience around enough already, this segment turns out to be an illusion, or a silly ploy, that allows Barry back out on the streets.
Shudder is a good home for Fried Barry, and its hellish landscape of strange and thuggish characters, most of them rejects from some of the Mad Max movies. The streaming service caters to those of us who love horror films. Yes, even varying-quality stuff like this entry. Heck, a plot would have been nice, but you do get a playful intermission sequence. Time for some bloodstained refreshment.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).