An eating disorder threatens to consume a young jazz singer in Samantha Smith’s Shapeless. Celebrating its world premiere at 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, Shapeless is a slightly disjointed story couched by hauntingly specific imagery and an eye for the destruction daze of someone spiraling downward. Countless people suffer from eating disorders but, sadly, this highly relatable story relies on it’s subject matter to deliver the scares. The result is a pleasant-looking cinematic serving of empty calories that mistakenly uses horror only as a garnish.
Shapeless stars Kelly Murtagh (who also served as an executive producer and co-writer with Bryce Parsons-Twesten) as Ivy, a dedicated bandleader trying to put together the best damn lounge act in town. She’s got a great band, a steady gig, and a day job to pay the bills. But Ivy also has a secret that is threatening everything good in her life. It affects her work, her health, and her ability to sing. Slowly, everything she cares about slips away from her and she’s left with nothing but the beast living inside her that has all the controls set to self-destruct.
As a character study, Shapeless is very light on plot, diving instead into the psychological struggle between how Ivy sees herself and how she treats herself. Like a quartet, grooving around a gloomy mode, the story plays with the idea of a straightforward structure but abandons it whenever it finds a new pocket to mess around in. There is tension but no resolution. Struggle but no catharsis. There is no closure or explanation for Ivy’s struggle. We are simply a cinematic fly on the wall, here only long enough for one sad summer.
“There is no denying that Ivy [is] living in a real-life horror story but there is very little horror in the presentation of this particular story.”
Through Ivy, we see how a person’s body can feel as though it doesn’t belong to them at all, and how off-hand comments, as well-intentioned as they may be, can bore a hole directly into the nervous center of someone in crisis. The makeup effects all look great but they are simply a visual representation of Ivy’s dysmorphia. If she actually thought her fingers began to web together or a grim second mouth appeared on her cheek (all super impressive by the by), I doubt that her first reaction would be to binge her body weight in breakfast cereals. There is no denying that Ivy and people like her suffering from an eating disorder are living in a real-life horror story but there is very little horror in the presentation of this particular story.
There is a perfectly fine drama (albeit a dark one) at the core of Shapeless but the horror elements all seem like a last-minute addition to grab the attention of horror-hungry film junkies like myself. Someone in the development process had to know that a slobbering degenerate like myself, desperate for a new gross-out gag, would sink their teeth into the film at even the faintest whisper of nightmare imagery. Like a gore-seeking missile set on autopilot, I scan every film festival announcement for evidence of the strange and unusual with the precision of a vegan that has spent a decade skimming ingredient lists for any sign of animal byproduct. I can practically smell the words “body horror” on a press release but a few simple silicone appliances does not a body horror make.
As a horror reviewer, Shapeless was quickly put on my watchlist because it knew what keywords to pin on the end of it’s hook before casting its line out into the murky waters of online criticism. This movie is not for the average horror fan looking for a quick bite in between run-of-the-mills slashers and ghost stories. Rather, Shapeless is a character-driven story for anyone still unpacking their own trauma, or those trying to better understand the struggles of a friend. Something unsettling enough to drive home the grim reality of a person’s struggle but not one dark enough that their fear will rise about mild discomfort.
“….a character-driven story for anyone still unpacking their own trauma, or those trying to better understand the struggles of a friend.”
Samantha Smith’s Shapeless celebrated it’s World Premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know what you thought of the film over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.