Fried Barry‘s shock tactics wear thin after a while and its stylistic cribbing leaves much to be desired, but it possesses enough ferocity and ambition to keep director Kruger in mind going forward.
The opening credits for Fried Barry proudly announce it as “A Ryan Kruger Thing.” Not a film, not a movie, not even a joint, but a “thing.” While I’m fairly certain that what I watched was a collection of fictionalized events assembled in script form, shot using a cast and crew, and then ultimately edited together to create a feature-length viewing experience, one can’t help but vibe with the spirit of an artist who seems as dumbfounded by his creation as those who will ultimately encounter it. That audience, however, may be limited, as Fried Barry takes great pains to alienate its viewers as quickly as possible. Opening in a key that evokes the hard-scrabble, kitchen sink dramas of Ken Loach, the film introduces us to the titular Barry (Gary Green), a rail-thin, sinewy fellow with long stringy blond hair and whose eyes possess a vacancy that hints at something sinister lurking within. Barry spends his days mainlining heroin and guzzling beer, occasionally going home to squabble with his exasperated wife (Chanelle De Jager) in the low-rent apartment they share in Cape Town, South Africa with their infant son. During a particularly mind-altering binge, Barry is abducted by aliens and his body overtaken by the otherworldly visitors, who proceed to use him as a host vessel while they attempt to discover the mysteries of our world.
But as “Barry” experiences such earthly marvels as drugs, sex, and violence, it’s fair to wonder what exactly it is that Kruger has on his mind. Fried Barry takes great pains to show Cape Town, specifically its economically-depressed sections, as a hellscape from which there is no escape. Within minutes of returning to earth, Barry is given drugs, sexually assaulted, and forced to fend for his life from gang members, drug dealers, pimps and, ultimately, police officers and government officials working under the guise of helping the common man. Yet, any messaging is consistently interrupted by Kruger’s absolute obsession with all things style. Fried Barry desperately wants to be its own singular “thing,” but its influences are both excessive and obvious, with strands of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin clearly woven into its DNA, while the visual aesthetics of everyone from Ben Wheatley to Gaspar Noé are liberally and gleefully cribbed throughout. There’s even a nod to Species II at one point, which is the type of deep pull that demands kudos. It just becomes so numbing before long, and it becomes tempting to merely count down the minutes, dispassionately contemplating what depravity Barry will encounter next, whether it be child enslavement or soulless, state-run mental institutions. It also becomes clear that Kruger has no real style of his own, mostly borrowing from forebears and going for such tired effects as rainbow-colored psychedelic green screens, sped-up action, and first-person POV that favors disorienting wide-angle lenses.
Kruger’s attempts at pathos are equally undermined by the fact that Barry is an unrepentant asshole from the film’s opening moments, while the director’s portrayal of Black and gay characters is…problematic, to say the least. An argument could be made that no one here is shown in a positive light, thus situating the whole affair as an equal opportunity offender, but if Kruger could have included one gay character whose actions didn’t revolve around giving and receiving random and anonymous blow jobs, it would have been appreciated. Kruger certainly isn’t shy when it comes to depictions of sex, violence, and nudity, but his very palpable desire to shock comes across more as desperate than anything else, as does the film’s inclusion of an intermission reel at the half-way point imploring audience members to buy soda and hot dogs. Newcomer Green deserves special mention for his go-for-broke, vanity-free performance that showcases a striking and impressive physicality, which helps to bring Barry’s extraterrestrial side to life. So while the sum is something of a mixed bag, Fried Barry has both righteous anger and ambition to spare, enough that it makes one curious to see what Kruger might tackle next; maybe then he can more fully discover his own voice as an artist.
You can stream Ryan Kruger’s Fried Barry on Shudder beginning on May 7.