Continuing our coverage of this year’s virtual Fantasia Festival, here are reviews of a few more titles playing at the fest: Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors, Ryan Kruger’s Fried Barry, and Tim Mielants’ Patrick.
Shinichiro Ueda’s follow-up to the great horror experiment One Cut of the Dead is not a horror film, but an oddball comedy about a wannabe actor, Kazuto (Kazuto Osawa) who faints in the face of confrontation. As a result, he can’t land a part and loses his day job (because security guard is probably not the profession for you when guarding anything causes you to lose consciousness). Just when he can’t afford to pay rent, he stumbles upon his younger brother Hiroki (Hiroki Kono), who gets him an acting job…of sorts. “Special Actors” is an agency that stages events for their clients—they are actors in real-life scenes. After a couple of jobs, Kazuto finds himself part of something big: infiltrating and attempting to dismantle a cult which has taken over a local inn.
Special Actors might not reach the highs of One Cut of the Dead (one of my favorite films of its year), but it is nevertheless a humorous and wholly engaging experience. Ueda strikes a pleasant tone throughout, endearing us to the colorful cast of characters as they embark on a twisty plot. The film’s final narrative beat may be a bit too pat, and the the whole experience may be slightly too long for what Ueda is trying to achieve, but Special Actors is a fun film worth seeking out.
Special Actors: B
Barry (Gary Green) is an abusive husband, a deadbeat dad, and a heroin junkie. One night, while getting high as an escape from his home life, Barry is suddenly abducted by aliens, probed, and effectively replaced by an alien who assumes his visage back on Earth. Alien Barry stalks through the streets of South Africa, stone-faced, and takes in information. He learns of the seediest aspects of human culture (mostly, this comes in the form of sex and drugs). The film unravels in a series of episodic scenes tenuously connected by the continuity of Alien Barry as he journeys through the city’s underworld.
Fried Barry, a “Ryan Kruger thing,” survives on its frenetic style and unfocused energy, as well as Green’s fascinating tabula rasa performance. This wild energy makes the film an acquired taste, one which I never adjusted my palate to digest. Mainly, I could not wrap my head around the episodic structure, in which increasingly wild happenstance encounters occur and are made all the more wild due to the presence of a covert alien. This may have been more palatable had this structure culminated in a satisfying conclusion, or if the happenstance encounters were so intriguing in their own right to excuse the lack of a meaningful narrative arc.
Instead, many of the characters in the film act more alien than the actual alien character does. This angle could have worked if it were purely intentional (as is, I am completely uncertain of Kruger’s intentions). This could have been a satire about how, from an outside perspective, humanity appears inhuman. But Kruger never makes an argument for this satirical bent. Instead, characters merely act so over-the-top and unrealistic that the existence of an alien becomes, somehow, unimportant. Additionally, the contradictions in this sci-fi premise make it all the more frustrating (one vulgar example involves the alien having sex with two different woman, in back-to-back scenes, with two entirely different, unexplained results).
Fried Barry: C
Tim Mielants’ Patrick is your classic man-loses-hammer story. We’ve all heard this one before. A member of a nudist campsite (Kevin Janssens) loses one of his prized hammers and goes on an intense manhunt to track down who has it. Even following the death of his father, all he can focus on is this hammer.
Patrick is an offbeat, subdued comic drama. It is difficult to get on its wavelength, given how adamantly it follows its protagonist’s singular goal. And Patrick is a rather stony figure, even coming off emotionally vacant at times. At a certain level, I never really understood Patrick as a person. It is his movie, and all he wants is that bloody hammer, but his character is stunted by that single desire.
At the same time, the script cleverly sprinkles in bits of dialogue that may point to a more absurdist reading of Patrick’s story (“Sometimes to get what you want you have to not want what you want”). And Mielants and co-writer Benjamin Sprengers get a surprising amount of mileage out of this hammer-centric premise. The more I think about Patrick, the more I feel I may have been deceived by its simplicity. Expecting an offbeat anti-comedy, I got something much more existential. And it is possible that that is why I wasn’t able to get on the film’s level.
As always, thanks for reading!