When I was first told of Fried Barry, I was expecting a much different movie. I was told it was a trashy, deranged, psychedelic rampage through Cape Town featuring an alien in a human body, tons of sex and violence, and some body horror. While elements of that are certainly true in places, it’s useful to know going into Fried Barry that what’s been said isn’t exactly what you get. It’s deranged and psychedelic, true. There’s certainly some sex and violence. But what I wasn’t ready for was a bizarre R-rated punk-rock version of ET featuring an alien visitor pinballing his way through a cast of sex workers, serial murderers, drug dealers, and a variety of other colorful denizens of the South African underworld in a psychedelic riot. No words could describe how oddly touching some of Barry’s interactions with the world around him are. While Fried Barry might not be all sunshine and happiness, it’s a strangely uplifting movie anchored by a highly expressive lead and a more novel take on the retro-influenced horror/sci-fi approach, plus some truly bizarre, arresting scenes of psychedelic madness.
Based on an earlier short film by Kruger (also titled Fried Barry), Barry (Gary Green) is an abusive alcoholic and drug addict living in South Africa. He fights constantly with his equally abusive wife, violently shakes people down for drug and drinking money, and spends all his time in the local pub listening to the chatter of his equally odious friend. But after a night of heroin and beer, a mysterious red light beams down and abducts Barry, and something… else comes back to Earth in his body. Marooned in the seedy underbelly of Cape Town in an unfamiliar body and hallucinating near-constantly, this alien visitor will experience the worst and best humanity has to offer over the course of one drug-addled sojourn through the South African streets, guaranteeing only that no one he comes into contact with will ever be the same again.
If the plot sounds a little… well, skeletal, that’s because it is, but it never feels aimless. With every encounter, with every new weird vignette, there are definitely calls back to previous scenes, whether it’s the weird hooting “WHOO!” noise Barry makes when he’s… let’s just say “excited,” or the constant hallucinations he has of being lifted into the air or falling from a great height. Even an early and darkly comic encounter with a prostitute comes back in the last act, ending the film on a very nasty but very funny punchline. It gives the movie a connective tissue while still keeping that kind of shaggy, rambling energy and offbeat sense of humor (the serial murder/torture scene involves a fictional drug made up by forum trolls) that’s always been the hallmark of the more “punk” sci-fi films like Repo Man and Liquid Sky, among others. And while Fried Barry does tend to ramble, the fact that it holds itself together a lot better than the films that inspired it makes it a lot more fun to watch and definitely easier to sit through than most of them.
The film lives and dies on Barry himself. Gary Green gives an excellent performance both as the ruthless and cruel Barry and his bizarre alien doppelganger, setting up an excellent contrast between the two. As Barry, he’s a sharp-faced and hard-eyed figure with a threatening physicality, lanky but somehow coiled and violent, with a look almost bordering on reptilian. As the alien, the same movements seem awkward, goofier, a little more free. As he first learns the basics of human speech, he stretches and waggles his jaw in odd patterns until he’s able to get the words right. His eyes are constantly wide and his expressions, while they stay generally somewhere between “bewilderment” and “intent interest,” are constantly shifting slightly with small movements based on the situation. He manages to be expressive, which, since he spends a lot of the movie not speaking, is all the more important. It’s also these expressions and the way Green moves from one scene to the next that gives the film some of its comedic scenes, like the moment during an asylum breakout where he stumbles along behind the psychiatric patient barreling through the halls, only to arrive at the getaway car and repeat the phrase he was told to say over and over again like a small child.
But it’s also a lot more optimistic than the premise would suggest. The visitor in Barry’s body is more bewildered tourist than invading threat, innocently healing passersby and smoking crack simply because it’s offered to him. In his interactions with Barry’s wife, he manages to be a better father and husband than his human host, despite being bug-eyed and barely capable of speech. The one time he ends up in trouble with the cops, it’s a case of mistaken identity after he frees a bunch of kids. In spite of some truly loathsome people sprinkled throughout the movie (the torturer/serial killer, the cops, the drug addicts, etc), the film ends up relatively in favor of humanity. As self-centered and debauched as the people of Cape Town are, they’re fairly welcoming towards Barry in their own way, sharing their drugs, taking him into their homes, cheering him on when he starts flailing around at a dance club, and roping him into a variety of schemes. Sure, they’re obviously bad (or at least morally ambiguous) people, but there’s definitely a trend away from pessimism and cynicism that’s refreshing for aimless, weird movies about lowlives and alien abductions.
So while it might not be what the hyperkinetic trailer featuring most of the film’s action scenes might suggest, if you’re looking for an offbeat, psychedelic horror-comedy, Fried Barry is among the better offerings. With its odd sense of heart, generally upbeat view of humanity, and incredibly weird sense of humor, it’s an experience rivaling only the deepest cuts of B-grade cinema and one that should prove to be new for most people who’d seek it out. At the very least, it’s quick, fun, deeply weird, and manages its darker aspects without diving into full-on gore or misery porn. If you just want a weird, offbeat experience, you can’t really go wrong with Fried Barry.