Every so often, a film will come along that completely defies explanation. Ryan Kruger’s Fried Barry fits very comfortably into that category. The movie, which started life as part of Kruger’s experimental shorts series, is a largely improvised and surreal ride in the shoes of the titular Barry, a drug-addled, abusive loser. Barry is abducted and becomes controlled by aliens, one of whom uses him as a mode of transport. This new extra-terrestrial passenger takes Barry on a debauched joyride around the underbelly of Cape Town, fueled by sex, drugs and violence.
In essence, Fried Barry has much more in common with a series of vignettes than it does a more traditional plot-driven film. The only real plot point is that Barry has been taken over by an alien with a need to party. Everything else is either incidental or a thinly veiled excuse to show off the next gory set-piece. However, this works in the film’s favour when you start to see Fried Barry more as a chaotic road movie without a car.
The unseen alien inhabiting Barry is calling the shots, experiencing Cape Town’s lurid nightlife for the first time, with Barry reduced to nothing more than the vehicle that transports them from brothel to nightclub. It’s much easier to forgive Barry for moving from vignette to vignette when they’re seen as wild pit-stops on a road trip through the night.
The heavily improvised elements of the film also give it an extremely naturalistic feel, which, given how outrageous almost every scene is, is mightily impressive. Yes, the cracks in this method do show in places, with multiple scenes that feel like the actors were scrabbling for a finish, but the moments of success more than compensate for this. When it’s firing on all cylinders, it almost plays like a mumblecore 24 Hour Party People, if Tony Wilson suddenly found himself ejaculating acidic blue semen.
Of course, for a film to try and pull off the improvised approach, it needs every other element to fall properly into place. Fortunately, Fried Barry boasts some superb cinematography courtesy of Gareth Place. Each shot is either drenched in neon and grain to evoke 1980s science fiction nostalgia, or smeared with grim and gritty realism to bring home just how awful Barry is. The final product ends up feeling like a surrealist showreel co-directed by Stuart Gordon and David Lynch. Kruger’s extensive experience as a music video director comes across in these moments, but his ability to go from one tone to the other whilst still making it feel like a cohesive piece is what sets this apart.
One of the best examples of this is the abduction scene, which successfully finds a way to balance neon lasers, sensory overload, existential dread, and some visually explicit probing. This is far from the last example of visceral gore in the film, with some of its best moments being when it’s deliberately trying to shock. It’s impossible to say more without giving anything away, but there is a birth scene that will simultaneously thrill seasoned horror fans whilst appalling whichever friend you’ve convinced to watch it with you.
It’s safe to say that Fried Barry doesn’t pull its punches, although it will sometimes take a while to build to them. Mostly, this achieves what it’s meant to and will have you on the edge of your seat waiting for that moment. Any scene set inside a nightclub brings out this feeling. However, sometimes the wait is just a little bit too much, or not enough is happening in the quiet moments to keep you on board. Again, this is a byproduct of improvisation, and the pacing issues are swiftly forgiven whenever a scene hits its mark.
Despite its outrageous nature, Fried Barry still finds its moments of relatability. At its core, it’s a tale of utter hedonistic excess on a night out, and everyone has felt that at some point. If this is the alien’s first time experiencing what humanity has to offer, it’s understandable that it leaned in to gluttony. Not that Barry is a sympathetic character by any measure. He’s abusive, cruel, and deserves to be hijacked by an alien, which is perhaps why it’s so fun to watch the alien go insane.
Most important with a film as experimental, wild and off-the-cuff as Fried Barry is an impeccable lead actor, which they have in spades in the form of Gary Green. It’s hard to believe that Green has no formal acting training, as he steals every minute that he’s on screen. His face has the elasticity of Jim Carrey at his most unhinged. The micron of dialogue given to Barry is delivered with the grit, confusion and subtlety needed to convey the unique situation of a parasitic alien letting loose. Fried Barry draws you in with its great cinematography and bold premise, but it’s Green’s performance that keeps you hooked for the runtime of the film.
Possibly the highest accolade that a neon-soaked horror can be given, Fried Barry is a film almost destined to be projected on the walls at house parties, with guests tuning in and out to their favourite parts. It’s a visual treat from start to finish, and moves at such a breakneck speed that you’ll feel like you’re also on whatever narcotics Barry is pumping into his system. This is not a movie fit for all occasions by any means, but it will be the best film you introduce a group of your mates to.