Fried Barry is an Acquired Taste but an Achievement in Dirtbag Cinema

Fried Barry is the directorial debut of Liverpool-born South Africa-based director Ryan Kruger. The movie – dubbed this “Ryan Kruger thing” in the opening credits – is an expansion of his 2017 experimental short of the same name. Made over several years in a rough and ready fashion, it is an experience that won’t be for everyone but makes a good addition to the canon of “dirtbag” cinema.

The titular Barry is played by Gary Green, a stuntman who prior to the movie mostly worked in non-speaking roles. Green has an intense, gaunt physicality that makes him the stand-out discovery of the film. There is more than a passing resemblance to Frank Silva, who was also not an actor when he was chosen to play the terrifying Bob in Twin Peaks.

Barry is an abusive heroin addict living in Cape Town. We see flashes of previous happy times with his wife but we are given little insight into the seldom speaking man. He comes home from a bender, gets into a fight with his partner and heads out again. He meets a strange man in a pub who rants his theories about Mickey Mouse before inviting him to his place where they shoot some heroin. Early on, the grim, druggy milieu of the film reminded me of the squalid but darkly funny world of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly.

That night, Barry is seemingly abducted by aliens. Either an alien entity decides to take over his body and use him for a joyride or Barry is experiencing some kind of drug-induced hallucination. Whatever is true, from that point on the film’s set-up is remarkably simple. It gives viewers an orgy of drugs, misadventures and deliberately gross-out moments as Barry – or the alien now inhabiting him – traipse through Cape Town.

The sound design and score by South African DJ Haezer is incredible and when combined with impressive cinematography leaves the movie feeling like an assault on the senses. The filmmaking brings to mind Gaspar Noé (particularly Enter The Void), Jonas Åkerlund, Chris Cunningham and even the Joe Begos movie Bliss, but with an added focus on grossing viewers out reminiscent of Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler (the sex scene followed by immediate pregnancy and birth will either be a highlight or lowlight depending on your taste).

Meanwhile, scenes of Barry stumbling around – presumably achieved through a front-facing bodycam – recall Requiem for a Dream or for fans of That Mitchell and Webb Look the Sir Digby Chicken Caesar sketches. Either way, whatever the opposite of a tourism advert is, this is it. The Cape Town of the movie is a neon-drenched hell.

Fried Barry is laugh-out-loud funny at times and surprisingly emotional at others. At 109 minutes, however, it still feels overlong and whilst it engaged me throughout there were points where I was patiently waiting for it to progress to somewhere more interesting. The film has the same issue many shorts expanded into features have in that it feels overstretched. On top of this, how much patience viewers have for drug trip sequences and music video-style montages will have a huge bearing on how much they will appreciate it, and while the movie’s stylistic homages are often enjoyable, occasionally they seem more like blatant attempts to make a “cult” film.

Still, those seeking out the weirder side of cinema will most likely find Fried Barry a delicacy worth tasting once, rough edges and all.

Fried Barry is streaming on Shudder now.

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