The Substance Will Tackle Body Image With Gore, Humor, and Demi Moore


  • Demi Moore’s role in
    The Substance
    channels her own personal struggles with fame and beauty standards.
  • Director Coralie Fargeat brings her signature style of gore to tackle body image issues in the film.
  • The Substance
    is generating buzz at Cannes, with Demi Moore’s scenes challenging Hollywood norms.

In the recently released teaser trailer for The Substance, a new body horror film from director Coralie Fargeat, Demi Moore can be seen in a sleek hillside home playing a promotion for a new cosmetic procedure. The promotional video asks, “Have you ever dreamed of a better version of yourself?” before promising to unblock DNA, enabling a person to regenerate their younger self using a product called the Substance. Moore plays Elisabeth Sparkle, a movie star turned fitness instructor à la Jane Fonda – who is desperate to maintain a youthful look. The catch is, anyone who uses the Substance needs to spend equal time with their new and old self… or else.

Moore brings a wealth of personal experience as a performer known for her youthful looks and innate talent acting in films like A Few Good Men and St Elmo’s Fire. Her popularity peaked acting opposite Patrick Swayze in the supernatural romance Ghost. But Moore’s career came to a crossroads with Striptease when she was paid $12 million to bare it all. The film was panned by critics and Moore along with it, and she never quite recovered that level of fame. That was also due to the harsh but often inevitable phasing out of female actors as they age. With The Substance eliciting a 10-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival that is making it the talk of the festival circuit, Moore may experience a second coming.

The Substance’s Director Made a Stirring Revenge Film

Coralie Fargeat is a French director who made waves with her debut feature in 2017, Revenge, about a woman left for dead after a horrific crime who gets payback via some brutal kills. The film garnered a 93% critical rating on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, creating buzz around Fargeat that has made her follow-up feature, The Substance, hotly-anticipated. Moore was cast early in the process, owing to her personal history with fame and a heavily dissected beauty. Ray Liotta was attached to the film at one point but had to be replaced by Dennis Quaid after Liotta passed away in 2022. Margaret Qualley will round out the cast as the younger version of Elisabeth, named Sue.


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Fargeat is an admirer of body horror master David Cronenberg, whose film, The Shrouds, she is now battling for top prizes at Cannes after her film reportedly received a 10-minute standing ovation from a festival audience. Fargeat is a veteran of the French film industry, and as #MeToo is ramping up dramatically in France because of the scandal around Gérard Depardieu, among others, Fargeat promises a film that addresses the movement. Regarding her film’s role in the movement, Fargeat said “It’s a little stone in the huge wall we still have to build regarding this issue.” Fargeat is choosing a novel approach to tackle body image: gore.

The Substance Is Ringing Alarms at the Cannes Film Festival

Early returns from Cannes audiences describe some laughably gory body horror scenes, and there’s a ton of buzz about Demi Moore’s decision to appear nude in the film. The actress remains stunning at 61 and hopes to upend years of judgment in Hollywood for decisions as trivial as her short haircut in Ghost and as consequential as her contractually negotiated nudity in Striptease. Moore also caused a stir when Annie Leibovitz photographed her, pregnant and naked, for the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991.


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Margaret Qualley (who plays Sue, the “younger side of the coin” according to Fargeat) has had experience with social media’s untoward interest in her appearance, as well – and her mother, Andie MacDowell, was another talented actress who has dealt with age-related bias. Qualley may be the actor with the most gusto going into Cannes after a sizable role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and a starring role in Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls earlier this year.

Status of The Substance Release Date and Distribution

The Cannes Film Festival’s prizes are to be delivered before the festival’s closing ceremony on May 25. Until then, there is little information about who will purchase the film’s wider distribution rights, nor is there a release date. With the amount of press alone, expect a summer release to capitalize on Moore’s resurgence and The Substance‘s festival season buzz. For now, Mubi will look to secure the best deal possible for the film.

Films like Death Becomes Her have dealt with this topic comedically in the past, but this film has a more serious undertone. Moore described her approach to the role during a press conference at Cannes, stating, “It was a very vulnerable experience and just required a lot of sensitivity and a lot of conversation about what we were trying to accomplish.” Whether The Substance creates an uptick in serious roles for Moore is yet to be seen. Stream Coralie Fargeat’s previous film, Revenge, on AMC+.


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