Demi Moore: Cannes Feminist Body Horror Hit ‘The Substance’ Isn’t ‘Anti-Men,’ It’s ‘Anti-Jerks’

Demi Moore is using her juiciest leading role in years to make a statement against the sexism of Hollywood.

Moore stars in Coralie Fargeat’s body horror Hollywood satire “The Substance,” which premiered in competition at Cannes to rave reviews. The actress plays an aging star who acquires a mysterious serum that births a younger, more ideal version of herself, played by Margaret Qualley. The two women are nude throughout the film, which shows the horrors of women going to extremes to preserve their self-image in Hollywood. Moore credited Qualley for being a “great partner” during a nude scene they share together.

“We were obviously quite close at some moments…and naked,” Moore said during the Cannes press conference (via The Hollywood Reporter). “But there was also a levity [in shooting those scenes].”

Moore explained that the gross-out horror feature, which debuted at Cannes Sunday night, undermines the “male perspective of the ideal woman” to a harrowing degree.

“We’re not anti-men, we’re anti-jerks,” Moore said, citing how the feature pushed her out of her “comfort zone” and how the role required an unprecedented “vulnerability and rawness.”

Moore applauded French filmmaker Fargeat, making her second feature after 2017’s “Revenge,” for capturing the gore with the “sensitivity” that was “necessary to tell this story.”

Moore’s co-star Dennis Quaid added, “People say [Fargeat] hates men. No, she hates assholes. But assholes are so fun to play.” He plays a slimy TV producer named Harvey who fires Moore’s character, Elisabeth Sparkle, from her show once he believes she’s aged out of the role. He goes on to hire the idealized version of Elisabeth, played by Qualley, as the new face of the actress’ former program.

At the press conference, Fargeat emphasized a desire to showcase the violence on women’s bodies, both self-inflicted and from a patriarchal Hollywood.

“I don’t know any woman that doesn’t have an eating disorder or some other thing that they do that does violence to their bodies,” Fargeat said. “I think this violence is very extreme.”

“The Substance” has been picked up by MUBI for worldwide distribution. Early reactions called the film a jaw-dropping experience full of gore and horror, making Fargeat’s sophomore feature a potential Palme d’Or awards contender at the festival. The competition jury is led by Greta Gerwig.

The IndieWire review described “The Substance” as an “ecstatically demented fairy tale about female self-hatred” that is a mix of “The Fly,” “Freaky Friday,” “All About Eve,” and “Possession.”

According to critic David Ehrlich, “The Substance” explores the “ruthless beauty standards that society has inflicted upon women for thousands of years” for a campy coming-of-middle-age saga.

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