Cannes Day 6: Kevin Costner’s ‘Horizon’ and Horror Freakout ‘The Substance’ Divide Audiences

And A24 picks up the next film from a Palme d’Or winner

Kevin Costner Cannes
Getty

It was a big day at Cannes, where two of the most divisive movies of the festival both screened to wildly different reactions, plus A24 picks up a movie by a Cannes darling.

Different Sides of the “Horizon”

Kevin Costner’s sprawling western “Horizon” premiered at the festival, the imagined first part of a four-part epic (its subtitle, appropriately, is “An American Saga”), and received a response just as grand as the movie’s huge cast and gargantuan runtime: a 13-minute standing ovation that left the director and star visibly moved. “I’m sorry you had to clap that long,” Costner said, choking back tears. “Such good people. Such a good moment. Not just for me, but for the actors who came with me, the people who believed in me. It’s a funny business and I’m so glad I found it. There’s no place like here. I’ll never forget this. Neither will my children. It’s not mine anymore, it’s yours.” He also promised three more installments in the franchise; there was a trailer for Part 2 that played at the end of the screening.

And there were some who gladly backed up this big-hearted response. TCM host Dave Karger said on X (formerly Twitter) “’sprawling’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. Kevin Costner introduces a head-spinning number of characters and interests us in them all. This first chapter is beautiful and ambitious.” The critical response, however, was significantly more tepid.

Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson compared “Horizon” (unfavorably) to an episode of television. “Despite the first chapter’s three-hour runtime, we haven’t been given space to get interested in what’s being teased,” Lawson wrote. “The writing and direction is so erratic and confused that it’s near impossible to figure out who several characters are, let alone what they are seeking to accomplish.” Gregory Ellwood at The Playlist agreed, saying that there were “few fleeting moments of genuine tension.” Robert Daniels, writing for RogerEbert.com, called “Horizon” “a three-hour work attempting to rewrite past wrongs while suffering from the same glut that afflicted the film it most recalls.”

Not that everybody was so harsh; our own review (by Steve Pond) called it “big and bold and majestic” while still acknowledging its televisual feel. “The rhythms of Costner’s film are the rhythms of an epic TV miniseries, albeit one chocked full of all the things its creator loved about big-screen Westerns,” the review reads.

The good news is that we will all get a chance to make up our minds about “Horizon,” when Warner Bros. opens the first part of the saga on June 28. Get your chaps and spurs ready.

Style Over “Substance?”

A person in a robe depicting a long snake/dragon-like creature on its back stands over a woman lying on the floor of a bathroom near a shower, her back toward the camera, crude stitches running all the way down her spine.
A still from “The Substance” (Courtesy Cannes)

One of the bigger questions that loomed over Cannes this year was in regards to “The Substance,” the new film from Coralie Fargeat, returning to the director’s chair after 2017 brutal, brilliant “Revenge.” The body horror extraganza, starring Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley and picked up for worldwide distribution by Mubi, played in competition for the Palme d’Or. And many have compared its placement in the competition to “Titane,” another French freakshow that ended up taking the festival’s top prize.

The movie’s premiere was met with a standing ovation – between 9 and 13 minutes, depending on who you believe – but the immediate response was oddly divided, with male critics seemingly dazzled and female critics outspokenly repulsed.

Exhibit A: IndieWire critic David Ehrlich on X called it “by far the best film in competition so far,” labeling it “an instant body horror classic.” New York Times editor Karl Delossantos echoed those sentiments, saying on X that it was “my favorite film of Cannes so far” (to be fair, he’s said that a few times already). The Playlist’s Gregory Ellwood said on X that it is “an utter visual marvel and features superb performances from Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley.” Once again on X, Slate writer Sam Adams called the movie “Hilarious, unsettling, and gory as hell, a feminist parable for splatter junkies.”

Now let’s switch perspectives!

Freelance writer Iana Murray said on X that the movie is “one of the most batshit horror films with the misfortune of being contained in one of the most shallow, painfully unsubtle satires on beauty and ageing.” Film programmer and critic Flavia Dima wrote on X: “Judging by the reaction in Debussy, people are going to start calling THE SUBSTANCE a feminist masterpiece but it’s the most misogynistic, self-hating and cynical garbage one could ever conjure. Pure abjection.” Perhaps tellingly, there is one female critic on the movie’s page on Metacritic and her score is the lowest of them all. Lovia Gyarkye at the Hollywood Reporter said that the film was “stylish but redundant.” Her review read: “The reality of this experiment is that it traps both characters in the same toxic, self-hating cycle as the standards imposed by society. The most compelling parts of ‘The Substance’ deal with how social conventions turn women against themselves. A stronger version of the film might have dug into the complexities of that truth, instead of simply arranging itself around it.”

The Wrap’s critic Chase Hutchinson said, “It’s a lurid, loud and lewd film that comes at you.” Look out!

A24 Secures a Palme d’Or Winner’s Next Feature

On a happier note that we can all (probably) agree on: it’s very good news that A24 has picked up the domestic rights to “The Entertainment System Is Down,” the latest comedic satire from two-time Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker Ruben Östlund that is set to star Keanu Reeves, Kristen Dunst, Daniel Brühl, Nicholas Braun and Samantha Morton.

The movie is about an international flight whose entertainment systems break down, leading to the kind of oversized chaos that we have come to expect from the Swedish director behind “Triangle of Sadness” and “The Square,” both of which took home Cannes’ top prize. Following the Cannes win, “Triangle of Sadness” went on to three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

“The Entertainment System Is Down” is expected to premiere at next year’s Cannes. Can he make it a three-peat?

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