Shapeless - New Release Review
Director: Samantha Aldana
Starring: Kelly Murtagh, Bobby Gilchrist, Jamie Neumann, Eika Ashley
Written by: Kelly Murtagh, Bryce Parsons-Twesten
Produced by: Lizzie Guitreau, R. Todd Campbell, William Ramsey,
Cinematography by: Natalie Kingston
Original Score by: Mandy Hoffman
Ivy, a struggling singer in New Orleans trapped in the hidden underworld of her eating disorder, must face her addiction - or risk becoming a monster.
Samantha Aldana's feature debut is a deep dive character study into the fractured mind of a woman struggling to deal with her own addiction, which is threatening her own existence. It is a dark and upsetting film that might be triggering for some who have experienced such a terrible disorder.
Ivy is the lead singer of a jazz band which plays wedding ceremonies and club nights at a local bar. They are very good and quite successful yet Ivy wants more. Deep down she has a hunger to be an acclaimed singer, revered by loyal fans and lauded by other artists within the industry that she looks up to. But it never feels like she wants this because of fame or money, or has any resentment for her bandmates, it's because there is a profound unhappiness inside her.
Ivy isn't herself.
And that's what the unfolding premise of 'Shapeless' is built around. Her addiction, an obsessive and debilitating eating disorder, has changed her, not just physically but mentally and psychologically too. Her life has become dreamlike. Every moment hazily converging into the next and her daily actions, many of them just simple, normal activities have become burdensome. Ivy works in a dry cleaner during the day and she often shows up late and is questioned by her boss about her dishevelled appearance. She is fidgety, riddled with anxiety and repeatedly biting her nails away in a concerning fashion. She struggles with routines. Her life has become shapeless.
Aldana and cinematographer Natalie Kingston capture this disconnection with her own reality perfectly by using kaleidoscopic-type filters on the camera. This gives the impression that Ivy is broken. Part of her is here in the scene but part of her is somewhere else. She is in pieces. Kingston often establishes scenes involving Ivy out of focus first, then pulls the focus in and this further implies that Ivy's reality is fuzzy, hypnagogic and that she sees the world surrounding her in a very different way than others do.
In many of the scenes involving her, Ivy is captured through the lens as a reflection, either in a mirror or in glassware or in a window. Another fantastic technique by Kingston that really pushes this sense that the real Ivy isn't really here with us and that the person we are seeing is someone entirely different now because of her disorder. Just a mirrored version. It's something that Ivy feels too. A kind of imposter syndrome because she clearly questions everything she does. Even simple tasks like speaking to a woman at the checkout is second guessed.
Learning to cope with an eating disorder is exhausting and horrific in itself but as Ivy falls deeper into her disassociation with reality because of her addiction, the film begins to slowly creep into the body horror space and we get some bizarre, Cronenberg-esque sequences that are quite shocking. These usually only present themselves while Ivy is all alone in her bathroom where she often inhabits. It's sort of a safe space for her because it's the only place she doesn't have to hide anything from. Her self shame and her awareness that she isn't herself is what reveals the body horror. Deep cuts and gaping wounds appear. Fingers grow from her back. An eye opens up inside one of her wounds and glares out at her. It's almost as if someone else is trying to escape from her body. Maybe it's the real Ivy inside her.
Kelly Murtagh apparently wrote the initial draft of the screenplay based on her own real life experiences and she performs a lot of the singing duties in the film. She is an immensely talented actress too and really brings a high level of commitment and authenticity to the role. There's quite a lot of scenes were she is acting on her own, in her own space but she never looks weighed down by her solitude. It's a powerful performance.
Unfortunately the film is very slow to get going and it was very easy for me to zone out. Probably a necessity to help legitimise the mundane aspects of Ivy's life. Thankfully there was enough there in Murtagh's portrayal and Mandy Hoffman's tense score, notably in the second half of the film, adds an extra layer of lurid apprehension but it isn't a particularly eventful film.
- Gavin Logan
'Shapeless' will be available to Own or Rent from September 19th