Ivy (co-screenwriter Kelly Murtagh), a New Orleans lounge singer wanting to break through to stardom, is also confronting an eating disorder that threatens to upend her dreams. She desperately tries to hide her secret, but eventually the seams of her life unravel around it. Pitching itself — to its detriment — as a horror film, Samantha Aldana’s Shapeless clearly has another project on its mind. Even while it occasionally provides a nifty bit of body horror imagery (a gruesome wound here, or a particularly effective vision of dozens of fingers protruding from Ivy’s skin), the focus is on simple drama. But since the writing is so pat, and the horror elements so infrequent, there’s just nothing here to elevate the material above generic indie noodling.
Murtagh is clearly doing her best, but her quiet performance is mostly undone by Aldana’s direction; while there are some arresting images — constant mirroring, or a recurring motif of faces and bodies under sheets or plastic — this is awash in ostentatiously off-kilter framing (the Mr. Robot syndrome) and filmed almost entirely in equally televisual soft focus. The generic score, so full of pizzicato or discordant strings, is likewise enervating, and feels like it could have been snagged from any other low-budget horror flicks. But the real problem is simply that — like so many similar characters in similar films like Swallow or even Midsommar — we never materially learn anything about Ivy beyond the fact of her condition/trauma. It’s the sole defining element of her personality, of Murtagh’s performance, and ultimately of Shapeless as a whole, which is nothing more than a big clunky metaphor for itself.
Published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 3.