Demi Moore as Elizabeth Sparkle in The Substance
(Mubi)

Demi Moore’s Feminist Body Horror Comeback Causes a Stir at Cannes

The Substance premiered this week at Cannes, garnering an 11-minute standing ovation and heightening interest in the feminist body horror film starring Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley.

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Moore was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood through the ’80s and ’90s, ending the 20th century as the highest-paid actress in the industry. By the early 2000s, following a number of box office misses, Moore’s career slowed down and she took a step back from acting for personal reasons. Recently, Moore has also opened up about the lack of roles for women her age. The industry has a history of ageism, with age 40 often being considered the cutoff for women to nab major roles.

All of which is why Moore had a bit of a personal connection to the story in The Substance, the new film from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat (Revenge) which sees women pressured to utilize the titular product to become the younger versions of themselves society idealizes. “Through the process of the film, I think I came out with greater acceptance of myself,” Moore said of her experience. In addition to the standing ovation, her performance is already generating Oscars buzz as rave reviews pour in from Cannes attendees.

What to expect from Demi Moore’s The Substance

Although The Substance enjoyed its world premiere at Cannes on May 19, it does not yet have a theatrical release date. Given that the film is completed, it should arrive on the big screen sometime before the end of the year. Meanwhile, a few days before its Cannes debut, Mubi dropped an eerie clip to promote the film:

The 44-second clip sees Moore’s character, Elisabeth Sparkle, plugging in a flash drive with the words “The Substance” on it. She sits in intense silence as the unsettling ad for The Substance plays out, asking viewers if they’ve ever dreamt of being “a better version” of themselves, a version that is “younger” and “more beautiful.” If so, a single injection of the product—which works by increasing cellular division—can help them achieve that dream, unlocking a new version of themselves. The teaser ends with the words THE SUBSTANCE over a black screen.

In line with the teaser, the synopsis is also unusual for a movie. It reads:

Have you ever dreamt of a better version of yourself?

You. Only better in every way.

You’ve got to try this new product.

It changed my life.

THE SUBSTANCE.

Moore plays the lead character, Elisabeth, an older woman interested in utilizing The Substance. Drive-Away Dolls star Margaret Qualley plays Sue, the younger woman Elisabeth transforms into. Dennis Quaid co-stars as Harvey, a TV network boss, and a role was initially supposed to be played by Ray Liotta, who joined the cast in 2022. Sadly, Liotta passed away before production began. As a result, Quaid has dedicated his role to the late actor.

Also appearing in The Substance are Hugo Diego Garcia, Joseph Balderrama, Oscar Lesage, Gore Abrams, Phillip Schurer, and Matthew Géczy.

According to The Hollywood Reporter‘s review of The Substance, the movie focuses on Elisabeth, the host of a daily exercise program. Despite her stacked resume, Elisabeth gets fired from her job because of her age, with network boss Harvey seeking to replace her with a younger woman. As a result, she decides to try The Substance, leading to a grotesque satire filled with body horror.

Critics are praising the feminist arc of the movie, which explores how women, who are far more likely to experience ageism than men, are often pushed out of work and deemed irrelevant as they age, placing many of us under crushing pressure to maintain our youthful appearance. Ultimately, The Substance has effectively established itself as one of our most anticipated films of the year with its intriguing premise and grotesque body horror.


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.