When it premiered on Sundance a year ago, We’re all going to the World’s Fair couldn’t help but look like a mirror held up to his audience, reflecting the isolation of the average virtual viewer. It helped to experience this haunting micro-budget mood piece months after months in the pandemic, and through a laptop screen, the same black hole its teenage heroine absorbs. But the film’s resonance extends beyond the edges of our particular moment, beyond the loneliness of the immediate now to the solitude of the indefinite now. As long as we have the internet, we have movies over the internet. Is it too early or too hyperbolic to describe? We’re all going to the World’s Fair as one of the most insightful of all?
Casey (Anna Cobb, notable in what the opening credits reveal is her feature film debut) lives in an uncharted piece of America, a small-town wasteland of empty fields and abandoned Toys “R” Us parking lots. We never see her parents and hear them only once; screaming for silence in the dead of night and on the other side of a wall, they seem just as distant from her as the fellow bulletin board trawlers and the YouTube artists she follows. Like the eponymous Kayla from eighth grade, the sunny yin of this movie’s doomy-macabre yang, Casey has no apparent friends or social life. Unlike Kayla, her main interest is in creepypasta, that online community of horror folklorists and avid urban legends.
More specifically, she is drawn to a role-playing game called The World’s Fair, in which participants utter a Candyman-esque mantra into their devices and then creatively document the supposed supernatural changes their bodies and minds undergo. We first meet Casey while joining the game, via a webcam session that serves as the extended opening shot of the film. After a false start, she cleans up her bedroom and dims the lights for a better mood, before kicking off again in a séance of pinpricks, strobe lights, and repeated incantations. From the jump, the film asks where the performance ends and the real Casey begins. It’s a line that only gets blurred as she trudges further into the pixelated unknown.
Jane Schoenbrun, Writer, Director and Editor of Triple Threats We’re all going to the World’s Fair, completely immerses us in Casey’s surfing habits – which may be indistinguishable from her psychology due to the disturbing logic of this mysterious first feature. Long stretches unfold from the view of the girl’s webcam, and Casey easily draws on the visual language of horror for her vlogs, at one point she performs a fairly hair-raising riff on the nighttime surveillance sensations of Paranormal Activity† The structure, meanwhile, almost suggests a tube channel, with related videos queuing up as the teen switches between her own performance art and that of the other players in her feed. If this fictional character were to make a movie about her life, it would probably look a lot like it We’re all going to the World’s Fair†
Is Casey really getting sucked into the hungry maw of the internet and unleashing himself post by post? Or is she just skillfully taking her turn in a game and cosplaying a slow-motion breakdown? Schoenbrun keeps the questions hanging like storm clouds, with indispensable help from their ghostly opaque star. Cobb has the fragility of a budding web celebrity, skillfully conveying the ease of a generation raised in front of the camera and the uneasiness of someone who might lose touch with reality disappearing under glow-in-the-dark make-up. up and outbursts of arguably feigned despair. Her best scenes turn the audience into emotional detectives, separating truth from artifice. Take, for example, the moment when Casey interrupts her own TikTok-ready song-and-dance routine with a sudden heart-pounding screaming jag. It’s clearly a pantomime of crushing sanity, an act. But Cobb shows us the real despair bubbling beneath Casey’s imitation of the same.
We’re all going to the World’s Fair can be just as disturbing, in the creeping psychological darkness of its material, as the ghostly genre it resembles. It’s hard to watch the film and not think of stories of real-life teenagers falling into YouTube rabbit holes of suicidal depression or taking a wrong turn for right-wing radicalization. not friendlyOne of the few essential films about online living in the 21st century, it used its ingenious laptop vision gimmick to break the way some teens categorize their dark sides, through cyberbullying from the safety of anonymity. World Expoborrowing techniques (but not the limitations) from Screenlife and found footage thrillers comes to a conclusion that is no longer reassuring: For certain children, there may not be a meaningful distinction between the ‘real’ them and who they are online.
But We’re all going to the World’s Fair is not a cautionary tale for concerned parents. Why sound the alarm about a world that has already come true? The tone is more ambivalent and undercuts fear with optimism. It’s in a do-it-yourself appreciation for this particular subculture of storytellers and the creative victories of kids like Casey, a truly promising artist, whether she thinks she’s one or not. (In an era when filmmakers still struggle to make the interfaces of phones and computers interesting to watch, here’s a film that finds beauty in the harsh digital textures of streaming video and in faces illuminated by the flashing lights. from a monitor.) also the way Schoenbrun, who is non-binary, provides a metaphor for dysphoria in the mythology of their plot, drawing a line of influence to a groundbreaking example of genre-bending internet cinema, the matrix† As the film underlines, not all transformations of identity are destructive or harmful.
In the end, Casey bonds with an older male player, a deep voice behind a creepy avatar. An audience’s first instinct can be a protective alarm, especially when the actor, Michael J. Rogers, turns out to be a dead letter to Jackie Earle Haley. But here too, Schoenbrun resists easy answers, all the way to a dizzyingly ambiguous ending. The implications are troubling, but far from clear; where another filmmaker might emphasize the danger of seeking a lifeline in the digital abyss, this one only laments its impossibility—as the computer screen will never truly be permeable, no matter how much empathy we pour into it. The ultimate role-playing game, as the movie suggests, is pretending you really know someone online.
We’re all going to the World’s Fair opens in select theaters April 15th and is available to rent or buy on digital platforms April 22† For more reviews and writing by AA Dowd, visit his Authory page†