Shapeless (Tribeca Review): An Unformed Psychological Drama
Shapeless has the promise of grotesque body horror and squirm-inducing psychological terrors, but does very little to deliver on its intriguing premise.
Shapeless centers around Ivy (Kelly Murtagh), a lounge singer desperate to make a name for herself. She sings for local bars with her tight-knit band, but a dark secret she harbors threatens to tear down her dreams. She has a physically and psychologically debilitating eating disorder that she keeps to herself. While the film promises squirm-inducing bodily and psychological horror, Shapeless is bound to disappoint genre fans, as it never fully embraces its horror roots. Instead, it delivers a middling drama that ultimately feels formless and underdeveloped.
The film is the feature length debut of director Samantha Aldana, who definitely shows promise when it comes to the visual style of Shapeless. It is awash in moody colors; blues, greens, and reds jump out in the evocative lounge sequences, enveloping the viewer in its setting. Smith also plays smartly with mirror images, showcasing her protagonist’s fractured sense of self. However, the use of mirrors and abstracted shots of Ivy’s face and body eventually become redundant and overused, revealing the film’s lack of original ideas. This is also apparent in the score, with its heavy use of plucked violins that sound like they’re out of any given generic horror film.
The film’s score tries to trick the viewer into thinking they’re watching a horror film, but there are few genuine scares to be found here. Once in a while the film will introduce some kind of creepy visual (an eye on Ivy’s arm, fingers growing out of her back), but each of these visuals happen too quickly and feel too amorphous for them to make an impact. The surreal body effects feel untethered from the reality of the film and so entrenched in the character’s psychology that we know they are not real, so there’s no reason to find them horrifying. If the film had played with its blurriness between what’s real and what’s not, these moments of horror might have had a stronger effect.
Because Shapeless does not deliver on its premise nor its promises as a horror film, it ends up being a missed opportunity. Everything in the world of the film feels too distant and underdeveloped. The central theme of lacking a shape feels under-explored and could’ve used more fleshing out. If the film had played more tacitly with the idea of lacking a body or identity, its emotional arc may have hit harder. And Ivy, as a character, feels lacking in motivation and background. We don’t ever know exactly why she hides her illness, or if she even realizes that she is slowly killing herself. She is also never all that horrified by her hallucinations, and if our protagonist isn’t all that scared, why should we be? Shapeless unfortunately follows the current trend of film festival horror films: movies that are more intent on being thinly drawn narratives “about trauma” than providing genuinely provocative ideas or exciting genre thrills.
Shapeless premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, June 12, 2021. The film is now available to watch on digital and on demand in the US, and will released on VOD in the UK on September 19, 2022.