Shapeless arrives on Tubi and in theatres across the United States from the 10th of February 2022. Shapeless is currently awaiting a U.K release date.
Samantha Aldana’s first feature film attempts to portray an eating disorder by using elements of classic body horror. However, while this may sound like an intriguing and even unique take on the genre, Shapeless neither delivers on its promise nor fulfils its potential. Aldana’s story follows Ivy (Kelly Murtagh), a struggling lounge singer from New Orleans desperate to make a name for herself in the business. However, Ivy struggles with a deep and hidden secret that is slowly crippling her both physically and psychologically; bulimia.
Shapeless is at its strongest when exploring the harrowing effects of eating disorders. Here we watch a private one-woman show, with Kelly Murtagh occupying the screen for most of the runtime. Murtagh, apparently, suffered and recovered from a similar disorder, making her performance all the more accurate and brave. Given her empathetic and complex depiction of the condition, it is no surprise that Murtagh developed the story alongside fellow screenwriter Bryce Parsons-Twesten. Here Murtagh’s nuanced and eerily believable performance shows her commitment to shedding light on this scary condition.
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Shapeless is also to be commended for conveying how bulimia feels, even emphasising small moments like a shop assistants unsought comments on Ivy’s groceries. Or the powerful eating compulsion that eventually leads to self-hate and trauma. At the same time, Shapeless also uncovers how challenging even the simplest everyday tasks can be for someone living with this disorder.
On one level, Shapeless offers us an intense character study that spotlights the terrifying effects of bulimia. Here, following Ivy and her condition adds an extra ‘suspense’ to scenes as our other characters remain unaware of her illness. But this is only further enhanced by Ivy’s inner denial driven by her career aspirations. Here, Aldana excels in creating a captivating yet nightmarish atmosphere that perfectly captures the moody lighting of Louisiana’s lounges – playing with an almost Lynchian vibe.
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However, the film regrettably falls flat in its pacing and attempts at body horror. While Murtagh’s performance is undoubtedly memorable, the film lacks character depth and a solid story arc. Here the rest of the cast feel like walk-on extras rather than drivers of the story. Equally, while unique and even unconventional at first, the film’s visuals soon become repetitive. For example, Aldana uses a mirror in the frame to capture Ivy’s distorted image. While, in theory, this is a clever visual device in showing Ivy’s fractured self, it is overused and quickly loses its power.
The idea of portraying the inner demons of bulimia through metamorphosis into a monster is undeniably brilliant; however, Shapeless never fully embraces its body horror roots – and this is ultimately its biggest flaw. Fans of this horror subgenre will undoubtedly find the lack of horror on display disappointing. Instead, we have a random and arbitrary sense of Ivy’s body undergoing a metamorphosis that is neither displayed nor clear in its intention. Here the film haphazardly throws in body horror elements in what is essentially a human drama. Given the very personal and intimate approach to the subject, I can’t help but feel the film would have benefited from completely excluding the body horror by focusing purely on the terror of bulimia.
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Unfortunately, this lack of direction and purpose leaves Shapeless in a void of its own making. Here Shapeless neither fully embraces a David Cronenberg inspired horror nor has enough power in its narrative to deliver a full-bodied drama. For a feature debut, Aldana’s choice of topic is to be commended; after all, this is a condition still rarely portrayed in mainstream media, while social media continues to push irrational body standards. Regrettably, as it stands, the result lives up to its title, which is a pity given the critical issues at play.
Unfortunately, this lack of direction and purpose leaves Shapeless in a void of its own making. Here Shapeless neither fully embraces a David Cronenberg inspired horror nor has enough power in its narrative to deliver a full-bodied drama.