FANTASIA ’20— ‘Under the Skin’ Meets ‘The Beach Bum’ in the Delirious ‘Fried Barry’

Fantasia Festival

What if aliens really just want to come to earth to fuck, do drugs and have a good time? That’s the pressing question asked by South African director Ryan Kruger’s feature debut Fried Barry, in which a burned out junkie’s body becomes the host for a wayward alien, with no clear intention in his visit to our planet other than to wander around the streets of Cape Town just happening upon horny women and hard drugs. Similar to Matthew McConaughey’s fun-loving Moon Dog of The Beach Bum, Barry (or Barry’s body, I suppose) coasts through both the good times and the bad during his brief stint on earth, eluding most severe consequences and ultimately wading through murky topics, but never really honing in on anything in particular it wants to say. It’s an anti-romp led by a mostly passive protagonist and it doesn’t always work — but it very often does.

Barry (Gary Green) is a heroin-addicted deadbeat dad living in Cape Town, South Africa, who spends most of his time neglecting his wife and child and more time in bars, getting high, and roughing up folks who owe him money. One day, shortly after shooting up with a shared needle, Barry is seemingly abducted in plain sight and his consciousness becomes trapped by aliens, one of whom takes over Barry’s body and replaces him back on earth. It’s a sequence and overall premise that unmistakably shares a number of similarities with Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 sci-fi film Under the Skin, in which an alien under the guise of a beautiful woman (played by Scarlett Johansson), seduces men on the streets Scotland and consumes them. Particularly, the abduction scene itself seems to lift its style from Glazer’s film, taking place in stark, nearly all-encompassing blackness and sporadic visuals in which the viewer can only surmise what is actually happening.

Once alien Barry touches down on earth, the plot veers away from Under the Skin while still maintaining that important aspect of an alien armed with the art of seduction. But alien Barry doesn’t seduce to kill — in fact, he doesn’t intentionally seduce at all. It’s as if Barry has been endowed with a powerful alien aphrodisiac which makes him utterly irresistible to women without even doing anything, all of whom practically throw themselves at his sweaty, skeletal frame as if it’s begging for them to put out. What follows is Barry’s alien excursion across Cape Town: unintentionally fucking, engaging in and witnessing debaucherous behaviour, healing heart attack victims with a single touch, and doing all the free drugs his heart desires. For what reason? Eh, who’s to say.

That’s basically the uniting theme of the film, in that it’s hard to say what it is, or if it even has one. It’s yet another thing Fried Barry has in common with Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum, a similarly thematically confused film that seems to be saying everything and nothing at all at once: in particular, that white men can thrive on mediocrity and get everything handed to them without putting in any of the work, and can get away with misdeeds mostly Scot-free. But, then again, it’s all sort of hard to say. Most of the “greater meaning” is lost in the spectacle of it all; in the drugged-out Odyssean voyage through the Cape Town underbelly.

An aforementioned “anti-romp”, alien Barry is given plenty to do throughout his tenure though the film suffers from some pacing issues, and there’s a sense that the envelope could’ve been pushed a bit further in terms of guts, gore, and general gross-outs. It’s a grimy film but not a particularly crazy one, as promised by the premise. Even the most gonzo scenes ensue under a general malaise, as the narrative creeps along its hour and 47-minute runtime. It never leans into full-on comedy or even black comedy either, save for a few funny sequences — specifically, the added quirk of alien Barry being unable to make normal sounds during sex, so he hoots like a cartoon character. The film ends up existing in this middle area between wanting to be wacky and being objectively very bleak, but never quite melds the two into something cohesive. Fried Barry is certainly missing some extra umph, some glue to hold all its sporadic ideas together, but it’s weird and wild and worth the ride.

Fried Barry enjoyed its Canadian Premiere at the virtual edition of Fantasia Film Festival 2020

by Brianna Zigler

Brianna is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the ShadowsA Serious ManLord of the Rings: The Return of the KingSwiss Army Man, and Suspiria. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs

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