It’s not very often a film comes along like Fried Barry. Even for Fantasia Festival 2020, which had an incredibly diverse programme of films, Fried Barry is, perhaps, one of the strangest, deliberately trippy films you’ll ever come across, and as a result it’s a wild ride from start to finish, with a surprising amount of heart!
Written and directed by Ryan Kruger, Fried Barry is a drug-fuelled descent into fantasy and absurdity set in South Africa, when the film’s titular Barry (Gary Green), a middle-aged drug-addicted loser is abducted by aliens and then possessed by one, with that alien, in Barry’s body, navigating the dark and twisted world that human Barry used to inhabit.
We then see Barry, who was an emotionally stunted, mean-spirited human being before his abduction; almost become, in a cruel irony, a better parent and a more compassionate human as an alien wearing his body with zero human understanding than as the actual human being he was before.
Whilst the film is mostly a drug-filled road-trip where Barry interacts with increasingly weird and wonderful characters, helping some of them, there’s also an element of horror as Barry is quick to kill certain people that cross his path, most notably a child abductor that Barry rescues a large group of children from in the film’s climax. There are some particularly great scenes of body horror as well with the actual alien abduction scene and the rapid pregnancy that occurs after Barry has sex with a prostitute.
Kruger’s direction is also superb at conveying the ‘fish out of water’ element of Barry being an alien in a human world. The decision to cute between a combination of point of view and extreme facial close ups of Barry as he traverses his new environment really help to portray the wonder of the world as we know it. I particularly liked Barry’s confusion over eating a hot dog.
There’s also an amazing shift in narrative in conjunction with the mise-en-scene, as Barry’s journey goes from night-time to daytime. At night, the camerawork and pacing is frantic, frenetic and claustrophobic, but during the day everything slows down, the shots become wider and Barry’s actions become calmer and kinder. It’s a neat little visual signifier of how different the two worlds of night and day are and a great way to portray how Barry is feeling.
There is a message being delivered here, that humanity is often awful especially at night. Most of the people Barry interacts with during the night are despicable people, or use him in some way but there are also many moments that celebrate cultures and minority groups of people by boldly breaking taboos and portraying them on screen. For that reason Fried Barry is as much a condemnation on society as it is a celebration of the people on its outskirts.
The whole thing is also anchored by a an unbelievably brilliant and committed physical performance from Green who absolutely nails the subtle changes in Barry pre and post abduction as well as perfectly conveying the wonder and horror of someone experiencing humanity for the first time. His performance is mostly detached and cold, but there are subtle tinges of warmth and emotionality especially when he interacts with his wife Suz (Chanelle De Jager) that really help you pull for him as a character. To put it bluntly, this film wouldn’t work at all without Green’s performance.
Other neat touches include the two drug-fueled sequences where Barry flys through the city and when he is driving in a car. The ensemble cast that surrounds Barry all do a great job of accentuating his journey and the framing of the film as an actual film with a public service broadcast warning about the film’s 18 rating and a psychedelic intermission encouraging people to get snacks is also quite fun.
Ultimately Fried Barry is a more experimental and eccentric Under The Skin on LSD with his alien coldness being presented as horror, especially when he gives the stabbing victim headphones instead of medical help, but the real horror, as we learn, is humanity itself. However, Kruger is keen to suggest, there’s warmth and hope and kindness in humanity as well, we all just, like Barry, need to find it.
For more reviews and interviews, check out our Fantasia Film Festival 2020 coverage here