Content Warning: Eating Disorders. Body horror is a traditionally excellent way to depict anxiety.
Movies like The Brood or Possessor have used body horror to reflect the main character’s inner turmoil outwardly. This genre can be an excellent way to explore mental health, giving a character’s internal conflict physical form. Some horror fans have found the genre therapeutic, as these films can reflect the viewer’s anxiety in a way they may have been unable to express or articulate in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the goal behind Shapeless.
Shapeless focuses on jazz singer Ivy (Kelly Murtagh) as she tries to navigate her art while trying to manage her eating disorder, causing her body to transform. The directorial debut of Samantha Aldana, she confidently makes the film a mood piece rather than a traditional narrative. She relies on visuals to tell the story rather than exposition, choosing not to spoonfeed the audience, requiring them to be along for the ride. I fully support this approach, and it works exceptionally well in this film. Beyond Kelly Murtagh carrying the film with a great performance, the cinematography and especially the music are incredibly immersive. The film is easy to sink into as you surrounding yourself with the smooth jazz vibes, accompanied by visuals reflecting a haze-like state, like watching a concert through a glass of whisky after taking a drink. Additionally, the film masterly puts you in Ivy’s head as she experiences her eating disorder, with the transformation scenes feeling uneasily natural, aided by well-crafted, disturbing special effects. Shapeless is incredibly well-made and benefits from trusting its audience’s intelligence.
While the film works in individual pieces, the film does start to drag midway through the film. While the film shows an escalation in Ivy’s physical changes and emotional state, narratively, the film struggled to keep moving. I didn’t feel myself losing interest because I liked Ivy as a character, but I caught myself getting impatient, predicting how the story would progress. The film didn’t need to be as slow as it was to get us in her head, especially as Aldana skillfully demonstrated how she could reveal Ivy’s perspective vividly.
While I think audiences may have issues investing in the film due to its narrative and pacing issues, I’m confident this film will develop a cult following. I know an audience will identify and empathize with Ivy’s trauma, and the mood the film cultivates is intoxicating. However, with a great production and performances, it’s a shame that the parts work better than the whole. Samantha Aldana is absolutely a director to keep an eye on; I’m looking forward to whatever she does next.
Shapeless is currently available to rent via virtual cinema through the Tribeca Film Festival here until June 23rd