The Substance 2024

Directed by Coralie Fargeat Big Nights

Direct from wowing audiences at Cannes, Coralie Fargeat’s magnificent shocker closes out this year’s Festival in style and lays down her marker to take the crown as the new queen of carnage with this wildly entertaining feminist body-horror feast.

Aug 18

The Civic

UK In English
140 minutes Colour / DCP
R16
Violence, offensive language, sexual material & content that may disturb

Director, Screenplay

Producers

Coralie Fargeat, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner

Cinematography

Benjamin Kračun

Editors

Coralie Fargeat, Jérôme Eltabet, Valentin Féron

Production Designer

Stanislas Reydellet

Costume Designer

Emmanuelle Youchnovski

Music

Raffertie

Cast

Demi Moore, Margaret Qualley, Dennis Quaid

Festivals

Cannes (In Competition), Sydney 2024

Awards

Best Screenplay, Cannes Film Festival 2024

Elsewhere

Presented in association with

Metro

Oscar Wilde, J.M. Barrie, even those blokes who wrote the Bible… all have admonished against the pursuit of eternal youth. Yet none have done so in quite such uncompromising fashion as the gloriously grotesque horror show that Coralie Fargeat here presents with The Substance, winner of Best Screenplay at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  

After fading star Elizabeth Sparkles (yes, that is her name) is deemed surplus to requirements as a daytime TV fitness instructor, she’s presented with an offer too good to refuse. Slipped a mysterious piece of paper and a janky USB stick inscribed with the words “The Substance”, the Faustian pact soon becomes clear. Take the Substance to incarnate two versions of the self: one is young, crisp, unblemished, and goes by the name of Sue. The other remains the same faded star, put out to pasture by the big bad studio exec known only as Harvey (and yes, that is his name).

Seven days apiece are what each “self” is assigned, one week on, one week off. With her renewed star power, Sue takes back her mantle as studio sweetheart, gyrating for the camera against the hardwood floor like an extra in an Eric Prydz video. But as with all parables, the good times don’t last forever, and her pumpkin arrives in the form of debilitating nose bleeds and head spins, before learning the hard way that the Substance is not to be cheated. 

Demi Moore is at a career best bringing a meta pathos to the role of Elizabeth. Margaret Qualley is both dazzling and disturbing, reversing patriarchal power dynamics as Sue and toying with any male character stupid enough to be dragged into her orbit. And Denis Quaid – well, he’s taking liberties as the cartoonishly loathsome TV boss, Harvey.  

Fargeat forgoes any kind of subtlety in her dissection of systemic misogyny, instead opting for broad brushstrokes, each character as transgressive as the next, intense close-ups and high angle shots inflating the caricatures. With hyper-sexualised iconography that makes the opening scenes of Titane (NZIFF 2021) look like Toy Story, and body-horror prosthetics that’d make Cronenberg cringe, by the time the film’s spectacular finale comes to a close, you’ll be ready for a cold towel and a stiff drink – this one is not for the faint of heart. — Matt Bloomfield

"An immensely, unstoppably, ecstatically demented fairy tale… Fargeat’s mad experiment is equal parts Freaky Friday, All About Eve, and Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession… Those with the stomach to stick it out will be rewarded with the most sickly entertaining theatrical experience of the year." — David Ehrlich, Indiewire