An ambitious debut feature film by Samantha Aldana and Kelly Murtagh that portrays a struggling singer’s battle with bulimia – but with a sprinkling of the horror genre.
Set in New Orleans, Murtagh stars as Ivy – a jazz crooner by night and employed at a dry cleaner’s by day. From the beginning it is evident Ivy is stuck in the cycle of binge eating and purging which eventually starts to have negative affects on her voice, career and her relationships. What’s more is that it appears as though her eating disorder is literally turning her into a monster, as she begins to notice disturbing physical transformations.
Shapeless handles this delicate subject matter with truth and integrity, and it is clearly well researched or drawn from personal experience. Many of the scenes are uncomfortable to watch but only because of their rawness and realism. Murtagh’s portrayal of this character is honest and dynamic as she shows a wide range of emotions from desperation, relief, shame, anger and sadness. Therefore, the horror aspect feels almost like an insult to the film’s truthful portrayal of such a debilitating illness. What’s worse is that the ‘monster’ elements are hardly featured and feel almost like an afterthought to add more excitement to the plot. Yet, ivy’s struggle with her eating disorder creates enough suspense already, especially when she is hospitalised – the severity of the situation is clear enough without adding the threat of the supernatural. Of course, it could be derived that the physical monster transformation is a metaphor, which is theoretically commendable but overall just feels unnecessary. Shapeless would make more sense simply as a drama, rather than being in the horror/drama genre.
In fact, Shapeless probably doesn’t really need to be a feature film. It could easily be a short and still convey the same ominous message. The pacing is slow and there is no clear beginning, middle and end, but rather a gradual unravelling of Ivy’s life that is clearly set in motion far before the audience meets her in this film. Her backstory is not explored, nor do we get a clear idea of where her future may lead at the end of the film. Perhaps the meaning is simply that the cycle will continue. There does, however, seem to be an ongoing theme throughout the film of oral fixation through the use of long close-ups on people’s mouths as they talk, eat and drink for example, which perhaps serves as an explanation for what triggers Ivy’s eating disorder.
Aside from the snippets of jazz music heard at Ivy’s performances, composer Mandy Hoffman’s music is dark and menacing and barely melodic – supporting the ‘horror’ genre. The repetitiveness of this music does eventually begin to drag and generally gives off a depressing mood. Natalie Kingston’s cinematography is also very dark, so much so that Ivy is sometimes barely identifiable from beneath dark shadows. This, too, is effective in conveying a clear menacing and melancholic mood, but which is exhausting to endure for the length of a feature film.
Overall, Shapeless is full of metaphor and allegory, which makes it artistically pleasing but perhaps not satisfying or entertaining enough as a feature film. It is certainly original and has carved out a style and genre of filmmaking of its own.
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