Plenty of people have problems with Barry (Gary Green). He’s tough to be around; he struggles with alcohol abuse, heroin addiction, and is often aggressive and neglectful of himself and those around him. He’s a poor specimen of humankind. But for whatever reason, he is the one chosen by extraterrestrial life to get abducted and aggressively probed.
This is how Barry becomes even more “fried” than usual in the bizarre misadventure of Fried Barry, adapted by writer-director Ryan Kruger from his hit 2017 short of the same name. When aliens burrow into Barry’s brain, he turns into an even more hollowed-out form of himself, and for most of the film we follow this zonked-out zombie through the seedy underbelly of Cape Town.
As we follow the often-silent Barry as he wanders half-dazed through scenes of drugs and dancing, decay and debauchery, darkness and derangement, we encounter plenty of dirt and grossness in this decidedly un-picturesque portrait of contemporary South Africa. We alternately feel like we are journeying through a surrealistic rabbit hole or a grotty bowel of the city, creeping and crawling and never quite sure what sludge will cover us when we make it out the other side.
The star of this show is, of course, Barry, and Green shines despite the limited dialogue and thick layer of grit and grime coating him. Person after person, everyone has a strange fascination with Barry, and he is equal parts grotesque and strangely beguiling in his scraggly and haggard appearance. He is almost childlike in his nonverbal wide-eyed wonder — except this is no movie for the little ones, which is made abundantly clear in scenes like when a sex worker gives birth to his alien spawn in an outpouring of blood and other body fluids.
It’s not clear what concoction of substances or stylistic influences Kruger was partaking in when he made this film, but whatever it is, it works. The aesthetic is a variety pack of flourishes and flashes, matching the twitching of Barry’s face with video and audio glitches of its own. The cinematography from Gareth Place features everything from distorted point-of-view shots, jump cuts and jarring transitions, Dutch angles, and flames, and fog, while the score and sound design from Haezer provides a heavy synth beat to give a thumping pulse to this horrifying joyride.
While some of the strangers Barry encounters are benign and almost sweetly curious, others have more nefarious intentions, and subject him to verbal or physical brutality. He is heckled, harassed, and hit, and random people on the street are constantly cursing at Barry or asking what’s wrong with him. His long-suffering wife Suz (Chanelle de Jager) wants to know what’s wrong with Barry, too, thinking he is on just another of his frequent benders. We rarely get a chance to hear Barry speak, and gain only occasional glimpses to the person who inhabits this battered body, but under all the filth lies some genuine heartbreak as this story uses its alien invasion of Barry’s body to tell a haunting tale of addiction, exploring the monsters inside our own minds. Suz tearfully watches Barry lie in a hospital bed, and as he grows increasingly sucked dry of life it is heartbreaking to watch him suffer in the hospital and cause pain to those around him.
Mental health, marital dysfunction, drug addiction, and parenthood are among the many tough topics that are tackled in this gory and gross exploitation film that is also one of deep desperation. We feel more than a little off-put and disturbed by the time it reaches its blazing climax, but Fried Barry is a nasty and strangely orgiastic trip.