Arresting, methodical body horror with a focus on the internal experience of its protagonist.
It feels necessary to add a warning for both this review and the film to allow those who would prefer to avoid details. Shapeless is a film that confronts the horrors and impact of an eating disorder. Help and resources are available from Beat in the UK for anyone who may be struggling.
Synopsis: Ivy, a struggling singer in New Orleans trapped in the hidden underworld of her eating disorder, must face her addiction – or risk becoming a monster.
Ivy (Kelly Murtagh – also responsible for the story alongside writer Bryce Parsons-Twesten) is a singer struggling to find herself as she deals with the effects of an eating disorder. As the condition chips away at her confidence, talent and relationships, the film becomes more internal, more preoccupied with the inner workings of her mind and how that translates to her body.
This is a film deeply invested in mood and tone, creating spaces that alternate between oppressive reds and sickly greens that surround the protagonist. Director Samantha Aldana blurs Ivy repeatedly, capturing half her face in mirrors which all contributes to Ivy’s distance from her life and also speaks to her fracturing identity. All fit the idea of Ivy’s battle with herself. In the darker tones, we find Ivy’s struggles come to the fore as she regards her body with intense scrutiny before collapsing once more into destructive behaviours. Initially, lighter, daytime scenes are a reprieve but as the film progresses, even these are snatched from her (and the audience), with a scene at a wedding becoming an affecting display of the toll it takes both personally and professionally.
Murtagh’s own experiences as a singer and in dealing with an eating disorder ground everything. She fully embodies Ivy’s delicate mental space, with the way she feels and her perceptions coming to alter how she moves, reluctant to take up space while becoming desperate to be heard. While the film doesn’t shy away from the ugly realities of her situation, this is a film full of empathy for Ivy. The camera is not a casual observer here, but becomes Ivy’s companion, allowing us to watch her study herself. We are never invited to judge Ivy, but to be present in her moments of pain, intruding on the private spaces where her issues are at their most apparent.
This is not a full-scale, gory set pieces body horror, finding a more ambient, character-based horror. Complaints about pacing and lack of concrete action would be understandable but this establishes itself very early on as a character study. Those looking for explosive moments will not find them here. The film initially borrows the smooth soundtrack of Ivy’s surroundings, quietly turning up the discordant sounds to match the distorted visuals. Everything becomes a haunting progression.
Shapeless is a powerful and at times, a difficult-to-watch character study that highlights the ability of horror to discuss the most difficult subjects in a way that foregrounds the individual.
4 out of 5 stars
Shapeless will be available to Own or Rent from 19th September