It’s a shame Cinequest doesn’t have a Midnight Madness showcase anymore — but in this age of streaming and timeshifting, maybe that’s a quaint concept. If they did have one, the South African science fiction film Fried Barry would fight fiercely, if confusedly, for the crown. Starring Gary Green as a terrible human being whose body gets hijacked by aliens, Fried Barry answers the question, what if John Carpenter’s Starman were on heroin?
That’s not being dismissive; that’s pretty much what plays out here. Writer/director Ryan Kruger establishes Barry as exactly the kind of person you don’t want to know. He seems to run small cons, deals drugs, ignores his wife (and probably beats her), and claims his young son isn’t his even as they sit across from each other at the dining table. After shooting up, he wanders out of a friend’s apartment in a daze, and the aliens take him away, then take him over.
Constructed out of largely improvised scenarios, the movie takes a while to find its footing. Fried Barry, as Kruger calls him, wanders through the seedy side of Cape Town. Of course no one really notices how strange he is, even when his body and face contort horrifically — sometimes through CG and sometimes through Green’s unique physicality. Some of the random scenes come back to pay off in the second half, but many are just an opportunity to be weird — and weird they are.
Once it focuses, though you still shouldn’t think too hard about action and consequences, Fried Barry becomes pretty interesting. Though it’s a tried idea — alien posing as human makes for a better human than many — Kruger’s approach is unique enough to keep it lively. Maybe it’s all just a bad trip for Barry, or maybe … aliens are learning all the wrong things about us. (Which, let’s face it, might be accurate.)
Green seems to be an instinctive actor, thus the improvisation. There’s not quite a through line in his performance, just the sense that every situation is new. Sometimes he’s frightened, sometimes just confused. And it’s hard not to find him fascinating, with a face that looks beatific one minute (though not many minutes) and then like the walking dead another. He’s a force careening through the streets of Cape Town, and Kruger has somehow managed to tie that into a story.
It’s a weird piece that will find an audience. But it’s not for every audience.
Kruger originally worked with Green on a short film also called “Fried Barry,” which I’ve embedded below. It will give you a taste of the character, though in this it’s more just a bad trip than alien intervention.