Directed by Samantha Aldana.
Starring Kelly Murtagh, Erika Ashley, Gralen Bryant Banks, Bobby Gilchrist.
A New Orleans blues singer struggles to hide her worsening eating disorder.
Ivy (Kelly Murtagh) is a beautiful woman living in New Orleans. She dreams of becoming a professional blues singer, performs regularly with her band, and shares remarkable chemistry with bandmate Oscar (Bobby Gilchrist). Ivy works hard to appear like a person in control, but she harbors a terrible, secret shame. Ivy has an eating disorder and the wheels are starting to come off.
Director Samantha Aldana’s debut film shapeless is a grim look at an isolated person grappling with a serious problem. When she’s not doing her boring dry-cleaning job or making music, Ivy is usually alone in her apartment trying not to overexert herself, and when she’s unsuccessful she invariably ends up on her knees in front of the bathroom. In her artistic life with her band, Ivy seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough, but privately the walls are closing and where music, creativity and the chance to make her dreams come true, her life is increasingly characterized by deprivation, failure and shame.
If that all sounds pretty depressing, that’s because it is. While the film is ostensibly a horror film, shapeless works best as a somber portrayal of life with bulimia. The film features scene after scene of Ivy trying (and failing) to get a handle on her eating disorder, and Ivy’s bulimia seems to follow patterns of addictive behavior rather than attempting to achieve an unrealistic standard of beauty. It’s a real drudgery living as an addict, and shapeless is very effective in depicting the numbing everyday of Ivy’s daily life. Unfortunately, watching these events come to an end can also be tedious.
Some of the problems with shapeless probably due to unsatisfied expectations. Aldana tries to fit a body-horror motif into Ivy’s binge-and-purge cycle, but while these effects are very well done, they never feel particularly revealing, and I never understood what the extra appendages that Ivy imagining itself on their body.
There’s a scene in there shapeless where Ivy tries to hide evidence of a purge by scooping handfuls of vomit out of a toilet, and it’s a far more terrifying sight than the more tacky genre elements on display. shapeless might have been a more effective horror entry if it had focused more on the horrifying aspects of living with bulimia, but Aldana’s camera more often shies away from the stomach-churning realities of the disease.
While shapeless Failing as a horror film, it’s an undeniably impressive calling card for this first-time director. The New Orleans blues setting is a welcome twist, and Aldana does a remarkable job of maintaining the film’s unique (and somber) tone and mood. Kelly Murtagh is in virtually every frame in this film, giving an expert portrayal of a woman in crisis as Ivy’s story takes an increasingly depressing path.
shapeless isn’t an effective horror film, but it is an insightful story about an all too easily concealed problem. Like a particularly sad blues song shapeless could only break your heart.
Flickering Myth Rating – Movie: ★★★ / Movie: ★★