Conforming oneself to impossible images is a struggle in this world of instant gratification, visual stimulation and filtering our flaws away. They can often trigger deeper psychological and mental health issues. In Shapeless, director Samantha Aldana shows us the monstrous side of body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
Ivy (Kelly Murtagh) is a singer in New Orleans with a loyal group of band members. She’s trying to hone her craft and find her niche in a city known for its legacy of jazz music. Like most struggling musicians, Ivy has a day job, plus the added stress of an unhealthy relationship with her body. Each day, she counts her ribs, making sure they’re visible, and her ankles are the size of thin pipes. Food is like a sinful temptation, and Ivy gives in with guilt, stuffing herself with cookies, cereal, and anything else from her junk food stash. If she doesn’t, her body morphs into strange shapes or leaves her with bloody craters in her skin. Ivy’s binging ends with a purging of her stomach to maintain a distorted vision of herself. This obsession affects not only her day job and singing career but her physical well-being, and she descends into a world of self-harm to follow her dreams.
If I’m completely honest, my first impression of Shapeless was that this could have been a short film, and we would have gotten the gist of the subject matter. But when I sat with it for a moment, I felt this film wasn’t about giving the viewer the “gist” or a surface look at eating disorders. Aldana attempts an intimate and horrific look at eating disorders, creating an almost voyeuristic vision, with the audience watching Ivy through a stained window. Like the voice of reason in Ivy’s head, the film is muted and conveys her descent into self-harm as a slow-burn, insidious journey that sadly has no return ticket. We also get a sense of isolation as Ivy goes through her personal horror, with Murtagh’s subtle performance drawing you in with her hunger, not for food but self-destruction, grow. Murtagh, who executive produced and co-wrote the film with Bryce-Parsons-Twesten, has had personal experience with an eating disorder, giving the film a rawness without sensationalizing Ivy’s struggle.
The use of mirrors, distorted cinematography, and dark colour palette give Ivy’s disorder a spectral presence and highlights the relationship Ivy has with herself and how much of a comfort it is to her, despite the dangers it presents. The minimal body horror drives the message of the creeping nature of her illness home.
For her first feature film, Aldana shows much promise with her storytelling skills. This dark tale of a woman losing an internal battle is told in a sensitive light and takes up important space in the horror realm.
Screening digitally in the U.S. only June 13. Get tickets here.