RUNNING TIME: 99 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Barry doesn’t have a job and neglects his long suffering wife Suz and their son, preferring to spend his time consuming whatever drugs he can get his hands on. Then one day his obsession with getting ever higher is rewarded when he’s drawn up into the sky by a flying saucer where an alien assumes control of his body before being dumped back on the streets of Cape Town. He starts to wonder about the city, his body clumsily piloted around by an extra-terrestrial being that seems able to sometimes pick up on human activities but which clearly doesn’t understand them….
Well the title’s certainly apt as Barry spends most of his time fried, so much so that when he’s possessed by an alien being, nobody seems to notice any difference in him. Coming across like Under The Skin or The Borrower if they were made by both Gaspar Noe and John Waters together, Ryan Kruger’s barmy feature debut is based on a short that he wrote and directed. Largely improvised from an outline written in three days, it’s an extremely loosely plotted piece, consisting more of a series of vignettes than a proper narrative, which is just crying out to be a future cult favourite due to its bizarre sensibility. Set largely amongst the lowlifes of Cape Town, it has an eccentric sense of humour and a highly irreverent approach, yet at times becomes oddly poignant. And, while there are times you may not entirely believe what on earth it is you’re seeing, it does have one major logical thing in it. Usually when people are possessed by aliens, they still manage to act like humans; okay maybe they show no emotion or something, but they’re not that different. Here, the visitor from space clearly hasn’t got much of a clue about how we move and act. It doesn’t seem to pick up on very much either, and in fact the idea of it assimilating human traits is virtually left hanging way before the film ends. We never learn of the alien’s purpose either; it seems that its race wants to study humans, but we don’t find out why. But that doesn’t seem to matter in this very curious film which seems to enjoy seediness and often depicts the ugly side of life yet which becomes oddly life-affirming.
It begins with an introduction from somebody warning about its rating and content. It’s very much like the introductions the BBFC over here in the UK used to put on videos for a few years, so this is probably the South African version. We assume the point of view of something moving past the Moon and approaching Earth, and you can just about make out the bottom part of Africa as the titles call this A RYAN KRUGER THING. Well, what we see is hardly going to be normal so I guess it’s a nice little warning. Our anti-hero Barry is first shown leaving a house while quick shots of heroin-taking are cut in. He arrives home, but wife Suz has a go at him. Barry doesn’t appear to understand Suz’s attitude, then comments about their son, “It doesn’t even look like me, it doesn’t even look like you” before storming out and nearly beating up a guy who owes him money. The only good thing about him is that, according to a barfly, he’s “a good listener”, and this could be only because he’s so perpetually stoned that he hardly ever says anything. It’s a brave thing for any film to present its main character as being so unpleasant so quickly, but it’s important in this one, as will later become apparent. The guy in the bar invites him round his house for more smack, and he zonks out in a haze of water and memories of a much happier time with Suz. Then he leaves and is sucked up by this large red ray into a spaceship where he’s taken over by some being in a very peculiar scene where it’s not easy to make everything out but where Barry is clearly being violated more than the usual anal probe method. It couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy. Then he’s thrown back down, and as he staggers to his feet he’s clearly not himself – though was he ever?
Some of the funniest bits of this film are seeing Barry walk in a peculiar manner, so much so that you almost expect actor Gary Green to turn into John Cleese. He wonders about the red-light area where he just seems very high to most, and enters a nightclub where a woman gives him what seems to be a ecstacy pill for free [this seems to happen a lot in films but not, I think, in real life, at least going by my experience]. Barry – or rather the thing possessing him – sees the girl giving more out to others, then grabs and totally necks the container, where his extreme gurning and crazy dancing are probably what you would probably expect to result. There’s an encounter with a gay guy in a toilet which we don’t see the end of but which clearly doesn’t finish well. Then when another patron thinks his moves are a turn-on, she takes him home to her house and screws him, then kicks him out, all the while Barry while has the most minimal of reactions. Out on the streets again, a male prostitute propositions him before dying in a very surprising if unoriginal fashion. That’s two homosexuals killed in several minutes, so is this film anti-gay? I don’t think so; in fact its writer/director seems to have a fondness for folk who might be outcasts in ‘polite’ society. Lucky Barry is then taken home by a female prostitute, and this time he certainly knows what to do because he puts his hand on her forehead and has visions of her with clients. As it turns out, he’s now incredible in bed, and then something seems to happen to the woman. We’re cleverly given the impression that it’s something very horrible, but it’s not – well, not as horrible as expected, just different.
The almost surreal material tends to take place in a fairly realistic mileau without it seeming out of place. In fact at one point things get so realistic that Green obviously consumes an entire bread roll in about twenty seconds for real. He’s really the glue that holds this film as together as it is; the way his blank expressions gradually become more emotive is beautifully done, as is the way he shows his character adapting to different situations. Reminiscent in places of Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks: The Return but also rather original, it’s a performance that manages to be successfully comic, very observant and even extremely subtle when it needs to be, such as when Barry returns to wife and kid a changed person. A moment when he automatically feeds his boy is really quite touching, especially in a film such as this where you probably wouldn’t expect to be touched. A film whose idea of romantic dialogue is, “I’d hide every chair in the world just for her to sit on my face”. A film where a man shits on the floor and we properly see it. A film where – well, I can’t believe I’m typing this – a very young child the size and appearance of a grown man suckles his mum’s breast. At one point Barry even flies like Superman, and briefly becomes a real hero when he awakes, after being beaten up, to find himself chained up in a paedophile’s dungeon. And then there’s an intermission half way through where snacks are advertised and Barry appears in an advert we’ve seen earlier.
Industrial techno/electrotrash master Haezar provides the appropriately grimy, heavy background musical backing. The rapid pacing slows down a little when Barry ends up in an asylum, a scene with another inmate going on for ages with hardly any cuts and filmed with a fish eye lens to boot, but then Kruger does have a knack of balancing moments where he lets the camera run for a decent amount of time, with faster cut sequences, and he and cinematographer Gareth Place are able to find plenty of vivid colour in the locales. He also tries hard not to let his limited budget reign him in. Need to depict Barry in a car where he and the driver are both ‘out of it’ and eventually crash the car? In what may or may not be recalling Natural Born Killers, Kruger employs old school rear-projection while we remain inside the car, finishing off with a process shot of fire surrounding the vehicle which seems to be taking off. Simple. Only a few bits of physical action, notably a fight when one of the participants has a chainsaw, fail to really come off. I find that these days it’s often fight scenes where low budget offerings seem to have some trouble. Something Kruger doesn’t have trouble with is dialogue; it tends to be sparse, with Barry probably saying no more than fifty words from beginning to end, but every now and again he’ll give some character a decent mouthful to say, my favourite being a theory as to why Mickey Mouse wears gloves which you can imagine coming straight from the pen of Quentin Tarantino.
This is really Green’s film, but Chanelle Da Jager as Suz manages, in just a few scenes, to capture the pain and frustration of being married to a selfish, pitiful junkie. The alien possessing Barry beginning to identify with the humans around it and intervening in their lives with more than just its own well-being in mind doesn’t reach the heights you think it’s going to, but the final scene is quite poignant; we’ve seen it in many films, but may not expect it to conclude this one – though Kruger can’t resist topping off matters with a joke, and a part of me wasn’t too sure on the removal of any ambiguity as to whether Barry is actually under this alien control or not. And even I wondered the point of certain moments like a till operator all-but-coming on to the possessed Barry, though that particular scene did confirm the idea that alien Barry, despite being just as average looking as before, is now somehow irresistible to women. I guess we’re being reminded of how junkies often can’t understand how they can be attractive to other people. A kind of tribal shaman appearing at the beginning and at end seems put there just to puzzle more than anything else. I wondered a few times it some kind of meaning to all this was intended, but I failed to come up with anything except the idea of how darn strange human life must be to someone/something not accustomed to it. There’s a great deal of looking, watching, something enhanced because we know that much of this was thought up on the spot, so therefore we’re experiencing things just like Barry. But, until I hear Kruger telling us anything different, Fried Barry was just intended as an outrageous, rather naughty [maybe it does tell us Just Say No but it sure seems to me to be having fun too], ’18’-certificate ride – though it’s a ride which, if you take, you may be surprised at how much you care.