The Substance

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Have you ever dreamt of a better version of yourself You, only better in every way. You should try this new product, it’s called The Substance. It changed my life. With the Substance, you can generate another you: younger, more beautiful, more perfect. You just have to share time – one week for one, one week for the other. A perfect balance of seven days each… Easy right? If you respect the balance…what could possibly go wrong? (Cannes Film Festival)


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English An artsy trash flick that combines elegant and spectacular modern filmmaking with intense B-movie body horror that forces viewers with a weak stomach to avert their gaze or even walk out of the screening room. With its music-video softcore aesthetics, it’s as if David Cronenberg had shot Re-Animator, but The Substance ultimately falls into the category of gory splatter movies like Peter Jackson’s Braindead. As a satire about the self-destructive desire for eternal youth and beauty, it is rather (probably intentionally) straightforward and superficial in terms of its concept, and when it comes to the plot, the film does not really deal with sense and does not hesitate to break its own rules. Everything is subordinated to the film’s constant pushing of the boundaries of expectations and it is boldly shocking on several occasions in the extremes to which it is willing to go. However, it is filmed with extraordinary pulsating energy and, thanks to its brisk pace, throbbing music, polished shot composition and both of the actresses in the lead roles (and the wonderfully creepy Dennis Quaid in a supporting role), it is pure over-the-top entertainment for the thick-skinned that is an absolute joy to watch. It should ideally be experienced together with a large group of other viewers. ()


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English I was not too impressed with Coralie Fargeat's previous effort, a revenge movie with a lot of nonsense, although it showed that this French director can impress with her frenetic style and imaginative imagery, but it lacked - well, how else to put it – substance. But The Substance does have plenty of it! What's admirable is that although there's a very simple and straightforward plot practically worthy of an episode of The Twilight Zone, stretching it out to nearly two and a half hours somehow works, and has an incredible pull to boot. It's a compilation of many inspirations: “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, films like Death Becomes Her, Sunset Blvd. and the body horror works of Frank Henenlotter (and after reading other reviews here, everyone can find a little something different in it), and it all holds together very well. The main acting trio of Demi Moore, Margaret Qualley and Dennis Quaid all deliver incredible performances, each of them doing so in a slightly different style. There are some really great, impressive sequences and the final half hour is quite simply the scene of the year! [KVIFF 2024] ()



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English Demi Moore is back! And in a banger like this! When my friend asked me what it was about, I said: something like Death Becomes Her, but more modern, more revealing, more honest, more daring, more raw, more psychological, and most importantly... bloodier! I had an incredible time, but the film also made me think. I don't have to burden myself with ageing at the moment, but it's coming, and I'm surrounded by women who are at a similar stage of life to the main character (just not famous), and I can see that it's a heavy burden. The body isn't as fresh and firm as it used to be, men don't turn on you anymore, and the terrible way it can play with the psyche, and self-esteem, I think that's portrayed perfectly. What are we going to say, the world has always been, still is, and probably always will be putting a huge emphasis on looks. And then a sleazebag like the one played by Dennis Quaid defines you, your worth, and your life: a perfect contrast. For me, the movie experience of the year, which I will, despite the final over-the-topness and absurdity, gladly give a second viewing. [Festival de Cannes 2024] ()


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English Don’t be put off by the shallow premise and the B-movie stylisation. The reflection of the rules of television show business is deliberately superficial. Those past their prime must be replaced with young people with perfect bodies. And because of that, celebrities are willing to do anything to their own bodies. For roughly the first one hundred minutes, I didn’t want to believe that such a cheaply stylised trash flick could appear in the competition section of the Cannes Film Festival. Of course, Coralie Fargeat has a grander plan for us and takes it in unexpected directions with the inner psychological conflict of the main character and, in terms of genre, with a nod to Peter Jackson’s early splatter flicks. This is taken almost to the point of a transcendental body horror spectacle in which the director doesn’t shy away from humorously using the music of Herrmann from Vertigo and Strauss from 2001: A Space OdysseyDemi Moore is cast perfectly in the role of a fading celebrity, and Margaret Qualley excels as the up-and-coming star of a television show.  Qualley, incidentally, is enjoying a truly golden period in her career, as she also appeared in Lanthimos’s new film Kinds of Kindness in this year’s Cannes competition. Tarantino deserves thanks for discovering her! If the film hadn’t worked so clearly and predictably with B-movie elements in those first hundred minutes, I would have given it five stars! ___ It occurs to me that female directors are starting to show far more female nudity in their films than their male counterparts. I can cite two examples of this phenomenon just from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, namely Les Femmes au balcon and this film, The Substance, where we see both Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley’s breasts up close, not to mention their curves in leggings. Yum! [Cannes FF] ()


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English (KVIFF 2024) Substance already has pride of place in the field of gory body horror. A quick glance at the blurb immediately brings to mind the classic Death Becomes Her (the episode The Outside from Guillermo del Toro's anthology Cabinet of Curiosities specifically jumped out at me). The casting of Demi Moore as an aging, (semi-)forgotten star was a stroke of genius, and I'm glad that this actress, popular in the 90s but rather maligned by the tabloids in recent years due to suspicious changes in her appearance, got a chance to play - sort of - herself(?). At least since Gremlins, we know that rules are not just for show, and breaking them can have (literally) monstrous consequences. As I watched, references to films like The Shining, The Elephant Man, Carrie, The Thing, Tale of Tales, and The Fly flashed before my eyes, but that's not to say that Substance is a compilation of what I've seen before. During the screening, I saw how some people averted their eyes – I was only bothered by one single (nail) scene in this regard. But it's definitely a tough piece of work, with incredibly intense and energetic audio-visuals, where I appreciated my slight deafness in places. Coralie Fargeat manages to serve up a dense, bloody spectacle that could have high-fived Kill Bill. But ultimately, it's also a sad tale of a chauvinistic ideal of beauty, the attainment of which can bring with fatal consequences. It's not a clean five stars for me, but Substance deserves them nonetheless, for having the guts and balls to make something like this. ()

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