Demi Moore, who stars in Coralie Fargeat’s horror drama The Substance, said that she needed to accept a “level of vulnerability and rawness” when it came to her own body to play the role, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The actress went all out for the movie — a grisly, campy satire about beauty standards, toxic masculinity and female self-hatred. The film  features nudity — quite prominently and frequently. When you add gruesome violence to that, it’s certainly a Cannes showstopper.

The Substance of female rage

Margaret Qualley, Demi Moore, The Substance poster

Moore plays acclaimed actress Elisabeth Sparkle, who now hosts a daytime exercise program. She is then replaced by Sue (Margaret Qualley), a more beautiful, younger actress. This sets up a bloody confrontation between the two women. In one of the film’s more graphic scenes, Moore and Qualley get in a naked, unhinged fight.

The audience at Cannes gave voice to their appreciation of the fight — and the movie as a whole — by giving it a nine-minute standing ovation Sunday night.

Moore describe her co-star Qualley as “a great partner.”

“We were obviously quite close at some moments… and naked. But there was also a levity [in shooting those scenes],” she said.

During the press conference for The Substance, the actress said the movie, “pushed me out of the comfort zone,” but she knew going in that the explicit imagery “was necessary to tell this story.” She added that Fargeat’s approach included “a lot of sensitivity,” which established a “common ground of mutual trust.”

It’s not difficult to draw comparisons between the movie’s plot and Moore’s own life as an older actress in Hollywood, which prefers to go younger and younger every year. However, the Ghost and G.I. Jane actress said she has never seen herself “as the victim.” She said that what The Substance did is skewer “the male perspective of the ideal woman.”

Fargeat equated the violence seen in the film to the actual violence — both emotional and physical — men impose on women, and women impose on themselves all in the name of pursuing and maintaining unrealistic beauty standards.

“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,” the filmmaker said. She noted that she depicted the violence in the movie in such an extreme way “because I think this violence [as in the violence women experience and inflict on themselves] is very extreme.”

Not anti-men, but anti-jerk

The Substance’s male characters are shown in varying stages of toxic masculinity. However, the cast and the production team said that their intention wasn’t to denounce an entire gender.

“We’re not anti-men, we’re anti-jerks,” Moore insisted.

Dennis Quaid, who plays sleazy TV producer Harvey added, “People say [Fargeat] hates men.”

“No, she hates assholes. But assholes are so fun to play,” he continued.

The actor also highlighted Moore’s performance. Quaid said that her acting was “the beginning of an incredible third act” in her career. He also shouted out the late Ray Liotta, who was cast in the role before he died.

“It was this week, two years ago that he passed. He was such an incredible actor. I dedicate it [this role] to him,” Quaid said.

The movie will be released in the US through Mubi, which will be the biggest cinematic release for the art house streamer.

On Rotten Tomatoes, The Substance currently has an 89% rating through 18 reviews. On Metacritic, its Meta score is at 86 based on 10 critic reviews designating “universal acclaim.”

The BBC’s Nicholas Barber gave it a four out of five stars. He thought the film was “a slow and superficial waste of an intriguing premise,” but ended up deciding that the “delirious last half-hour makes it all worthwhile.”

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich graded the film A- and described it as an “epic, audacious, and insanely gross body horror masterpiece.” He also praised the film’s cinematography, calling The Substance’s substance as its style and the shots “acutely engineered” to elicit a “visceral response.”