Horrors of Eating Disorders Fail to Take Shape in Shapeless (2022)
First Non-Festival Release: February 10, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Samantha Aldana
Writer: Kelly Murtagh, Bryce Parsons-Twesten
Runtime: 88 Minutes
Starring: Kelly Murtagh, Bobby Gilchrist, Jamie Neumann
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Ivy (Kelly Murtagh) is an up-and-coming coffee shop singer who yearns for a life that is more aligned with her dreams. She works constantly between her steady gigs and her laundromat day job yet comes home to a sparse apartment. A stinging sense of emptiness consumes her and the only thing that fills her is her desire to binge and purge food from her body. Eventually, she finds herself seeing terrifying visions as she spirals deeper into her eating disorder. The fallout reaches beyond Ivy’s physical health and threatens to undermine her entire world that she built herself.
Amorphous and listless, Shapeless dances along the edges of its interesting premise with flat direction and performances.
Shapeless primarily focuses on Ivy’s inability to maintain appearances when her life begins to go downhill. Her eating disorder is the vehicle in which it manifests most noticeably, but that is established as preceding the events that happen during her week from hell. Her vacillation between binging and purging leads to problems with timeliness at work, difficulties singing with her band, and her ability to connect with others intimately. Ivy approaches this with certainty that she alone can handle her problems while letting everything fall apart around her.
A common thread involved in eating disorders is a lack of control. Pairing eating disorders with body horror makes for a compelling narrative. Shapeless hints at this with some of the situations that Ivy finds herself in but for the most part they don’t quite spill over into anything meaningful. Aside from some friction with her band, her job is still intact, although with a weary boss, and her personal relationships were already strained as is. The growth is not as evident in Ivy over the course of the few weeks the film follows her. Maybe a longer pursuit paired with more evident markers of spiraling would be helpful to show the true extent of her condition.
Kelly Murtagh’s performance as Ivy is a grounded take on the horrors of controlling one’s body but doesn’t quite make for compelling cinema. Ivy’s reaction to the slow ungrounding of her life is so subtle it is barely noticeable. Sure, once she gets drunk and devours someone else’s wedding cake it gets more obvious, but her decline doesn’t feel earned without a more visceral uncoupling from reality. Still, it would be remiss to say that Murtagh doesn’t meet the standard asked by the film, especially one as muted as Shapeless.
A noble effort to pair cinematic horror with real life horror, Shapeless does manage to take hold in a few ways. Its commitment to the themes is interwoven in the script in many discrete ways, from Ivy embracing herself in specific ways to the manner in which she holds and consumes food. Those who suffer from eating disorders who are looking for a more nuanced and grounded approach to the subject matter will find that in Shapeless. When it does get into the horror aspect of the psychodrama, it gets briefly disorienting and overwhelming. Much like the conditions it takes inspiration from, Shapeless digs in to the uncomfortable subject matter with care.
The most disappointing aspect of Shapeless is its wasted potential of such an important and terrifying premise. Its flat approach to eating disorders works better as a drama yet the inclusion of seemingly supernatural elements betrays the sense of reality established by the film. Teetering between the two, it’s no surprise that the film ends up alienating many audience members by the time it reaches its unsatisfying non-conclusion. While not horribly filmed, there are few aspects to celebrate beyond its competent approach to filmmaking. Below average at best, Shapeless is best left to those who have the patience for heavy handed metaphors and underbaked horror.
Overall Score? 4/10