Director: Samantha Aldana
Starring: Kelly Murtagh, Bobby Gilchrist, Jamie Neumann, Marco Dapper, Erika Ashley, Gralen Bryant Banks
Shapeless is the debut feature from Samantha Aldana and centres on the horrors and struggles associated with having an eating disorder. Kelly Murtagh stars as Ivy, a lounge singer/laundry worker affected by a horribly destabilizing eating disorder that induces body-horror hallucinations and triggers a mental downward spiral as the condition begins to take hold - the movie itself is based on Murtagh’s personal experience so it’s hard to imagine production was an easy task.
Aldana doesn’t take the conventional route in terms of narrative structure as, well, there really isn’t one. Instead, Aldana opts for more of a ‘slice of life’ approach, focusing on the effects that the eating disorder has physically and mentally on Ivy and how it affects her day-to-day life - it’s that approach that justifies deviating from the standard template. In doing this, however, Shapeless feels directionless for the majority of the time. Ivy moves from day to day and night to night without any of the events that happen during feeling particularly consequential. It’s when she is alone that the disorder takes hold with a throttling grasp, Ivy having to feed her disorder with whatever food she can find in order to keep the metaphorical wounds and cracks appearing on her body away (her vocals are also affected by the desire to rid herself of the disorder and the manifestations) and these moments allow for the body horror elements to appear, though even these feel tame in relation to the intended weight of the story.
As Ivy, Kelly Murtagh delivers a committed and strong performance, one that clearly pulls from those tragic personal experiences - there’s a real pain emanating from her and you believe the anguish she is going through. The movie goes to great lengths to highlight the horrors of the eating disorder that everything around it feels a bit empty. The slow, ponderous pacing does little to add a spark or a momentum to Shapeless and, whilst visually the movie is appealing, by the halfway point, tedium began to set in. I fully recognize this wasn’t intended to be a thrill ride, a body horror extravaganza, or even ‘entertaining’ per se, but there wasn’t enough within Shapeless to maintain my engagement, it simply felt unnecessarily subdued and slow.
It’s hard to argue against the necessity of movies like Shapeless, any movie or medium that helps to bring attention to such debilitating conditions are wholly worthy, however, narrative decisions and the pedestrian pacing prevent Shapeless from being as effective and affecting as it potentially could have been.
June 17th 2021