Directed by Samantha Aldana.
Starring Kelly Murtagh, Erika Ashley, Gralen Bryant Banks, Bobby Gilchrist.
A blues singer in New Orleans struggles to conceal her worsening eating disorder.
Ivy (Kelly Murtagh) is a beautiful woman living in New Orleans. She dreams of becoming a professional blues singer, gigs regularly with her band, and shares some noticeable chemistry with her bandmate Oscar (Bobby Gilchrist). Ivy is working hard to seem like a person who has it all together, but she is harboring a terrible, secret shame. Ivy has an eating disorder, and the wheels are beginning to come off.
Director Samantha Aldana’s debut feature Shapeless is a grim look at an isolated person dealing with a serious problem. When she’s not working her boring day job at a dry cleaner or performing music, Ivy is usually alone at her apartment, trying not to binge, and when she’s not successful, she invariably ends up on her knees in front of the toilet.
In her artistic life with her band, Ivy seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough, but privately, the walls are closing in, and where there could be music, creativity, and the chance to make her dreams come true, her life is increasingly defined by deprivation, failure, and shame.
If this all sounds pretty depressing, that’s because it is. While the film is ostensibly a horror movie, Shapeless works best as a somber depiction of living with bulimia. The movie offers scene after scene of Ivy trying (and failing) to manage her eating disorder and Ivy’s bulimia seems to follow the patterns of addictive behavior more than an attempt to reach some unrealistic beauty standard.
It is a real slog to live as an addict, and Shapeless is highly effective at depicting the numbing daily grind of Ivy’s daily life. Unfortunately, it can also be a grind to watch these events play out to their conclusion.
Some of the problems with Shapeless probably come down to unsatisfied expectations. Aldana tries to work a body horror motif into Ivy’s binge and purge cycle, but while these effects are very well done, they never feel particularly insightful, and I never understood what the extra appendages Ivy imagines appearing on her body are supposed to represent.
There is a scene in Shapeless where Ivy is trying to hide the evidence of a purge by scooping handfuls of vomit out of a toilet, and it is a far more horrifying sight to behold than the more tacked-on genre elements on display. Shapeless might be a more effective horror entry if it had leaned harder into the horrific aspects of living with bulimia, but more often, Aldana’s camera shies away from the stomach-turning realities of the disease.
While Shapeless does not succeed as a horror film, it is an undeniably impressive calling card for this first-time director. The New Orleans blues scene setting is a welcome twist, and Aldana does a remarkable job sustaining the film’s unique (and bleak) tone and mood.
Kelly Murtagh is also in virtually every frame of this movie, and she gives an expert performance of a woman in crisis as Ivy’s story goes down an increasingly distressing path.
Shapeless is not an effective horror movie, but it is an insightful story about an all too easily concealed problem. Like an especially sad blues song, Shapeless just might break your heart.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★