It’s debatable whether any filmmaker sets out with the intention of achieving cult status. Historically, it seems to be a nebulous tag thrust upon a movie in hindsight; perhaps through irony (The Room), belated reappraisal (Showgirls), or counter-cultural zeitgeist (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Some films however are so singular, so disinterested in any concerns beside the filmmakers vision, that there is no prospect beside a cosy little corner of off-kilter appreciation. You’ll know them when you see them. Quentin Dupieux‘s Dadaist comedy horror Rubber is one. Miguel Llansó‘s cut-and-paste Spanish/ Estonian/ Ethiopian Afrofuturist pop-culture collision Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is another. Ryan Kruger’s deranged, psychedelic sci-fi Fried Barry falls firmly in that category. A meandering alien odyssey that churns Under the Skin, I, Lucifer, and Enter the Void through a grindhouse blender. It reeks of 2am slots at all-night festivals.
Barry (Gary Green) is a loathsome waster who passes the days with a glass in his hand and a needle in his arm. He neglects his long-suffering wife Suz (Chanelle de Jager) and young son, preferring to indulge his bleakly hedonistic impulses. After another bender, he’s abducted by aliens, prodded, probed, and set back down on Earth. Or at least, his body is. One of the alien species is piloting Barry’s body through Cape Town, tickling the same sleazy underbelly as its host.
Alien Barry’s trip – in more than one sense – is an episodic explosion of drugs, sex, and violence in the grand tradition of exploitation cinema. But Kruger’s approach is more experimental than most films dealing with such material. Kruger utilises varying approaches, from almost social-realist hand held camera, through pulsing neon ambience, and quick, choppy edits straight from the playbook of Darren Aronofsky. His leading man also proves himself a versatile performer of taut, wiry physicality. That Green is known primarily as a stuntman comes as no surprise. He throws himself into this gurning, twitching and babbling role with a fierce intensity. A spasmodic dance fuelled by a bag full of pills and a chainsaw fight against a kidnapper of children are just a couple of the disparate furrows of madness he ploughs.
But it isn’t all craziness for its own sake. The alien has stripped away the grimy, bleak context of hatred, self-loathing, and addiction from Barry’s proclivities, and replaced it with a rush of pure Epicurean delight, kid-in-a-candy-shop curiosity, and even innocence. There may even be a hint of the messianic in places, although Barry’s extra-terrestrial pilot may not have a moral compass pointing entirely due North at all times. If you wished to shoehorn some social commentary onto the proceedings, you might also see its milieu as somewhat tragic. A literal alien wreaking havoc through a city and drawing no extra comment than the rest of the downtrodden and forgotten is an indictment of society in itself.
At 100 minutes, there are patches of Fried Barry that run somewhat on autopilot and it risks running out of steam towards the end. You feel that a tighter editing hand and 10 to 15 minutes of padding removed would have disguised its somewhat rickety, improvisational structure a little better. Even with some aimless downtime, Fried Barry is still a flawed gem stuffed with memorable visual moments that can cause disgust, hilarity or sadness at any given moment. Will the cult of Barry take off? Don’t bet against it. This has midnight movie favourite running all the way through it like a stick of rock.
Available on Shudder from Fri 7 May 2021