Come one, come all, because We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Here, the “World’s Fair” is some 21st century Internet MMO challenge. Apparently, it is a horror-based one; imagine the DNA of Bloody Mary, Candyman, and Slenderman. Participants report strange-yet-unconfirmed occurrences after participating. Young teen Casey (Anna Cobb) has decided to partake in the challenge, which requires deliberately nicking your finger and smearing the blood over your monitor after declaring “I want to go to the world’s fair.” She’s in.
It doesn’t take too long for Casey—who’s recording everything—to declare that it feels like she’s being watched. In a sense, she is because she willingly uploads her experiences as a lonely 13-year-old. But she claims that her feeling comes from a similar experience she once had as a younger kid when sleeping. Her videos attract the attention of “JLB” (Michael J. Rogers) another participant who claims he can help Casey as the real world, online, and supernatural begin to meld into an indistinguishable one.
What a poster. Taking inspiration from the aforementioned Candyman, some stylistic elements of Unfriended and Paranormal Activity (referenced), Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, and a heavy helping of creepypasta, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair simultaneously is wholly unique and a fuzzy hodgepodge of ideas and an unclear sense of full direction. It is worth talking about.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair serves as the directing debut for Jane Schoenbrun, who quadruples as writer, producer, and editor. We can be pretty rest assured that the final product is as close to their vision as any movie could be. They waste no time bringing us into this world, using the first 7-10 minutes with little dialogue save for the words said by Cobb to set up the scene. It is ambiguous as to what “The World’s Fair” is specifically, but that is not the point. The trippy (some people have described this film as a low-fi/hypnagogic feature, that is accurate), psychedelic intro creates an offbeat tension that serves as the basis for the first third of the presentation. That scene and ones following it serve to give context as to why their lead character would want to partake in such a challenge; in order for Casey to get the necessary human interaction in her formative years, she has to turn to the Internet, because she sadly will not get it in her rural town.
And that is the scary thing, which Schoenbrun leans into as the film progresses. Tagged as a traditional horror and positioned as such early on, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair pivots fairly hard into the drama end once the assumed “threat” is revealed in earnest. To avoid specific spoilers, it is at this point where its narrative (a loose one, this does seem to miss heft in areas and around its characters) becomes a commentary on the dichotomy of the Internet, how we can build potential bonds with any and all, sometimes at the cost of not knowing ourselves. Or, suppressing ourselves for the guise of clicks and views.
This is compelling; however it is hard to completely bury the traditional horror component of the film when a solid portion of it is dedicated to accounts of how challenge participants have experienced unique happenings. There is never any clarity around that, and at some level, the shorts appear to be more metaphorical than anything (Schoenbrun is drawing from their teenage past as a nonbinary teen). Still, the parts end up making a fragmented whole, mainly on the story side.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair was made on a microbudget, and demands a lot of its hyper-lean cast to pull in the audience. It is an impressive feat for the debuting Cobb that she manages to do so, often without the benefit of playing off of someone or when she does, not having that person in the same room as her. Her performance is a delicately layered one, and should make everyone very interested in the young actress’ next credits.
Premiering at last year’s Sundance, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is getting ready to be available widely to all, and it should be interesting to see more reactions towards it. I could easily see it being a current streaming hit and a film that one day serves as something a generation holds on to, whereas others outside of the generation it’s taking a look at will be left a little puzzled. Truthfully, not quite sure how I fully feel about this movie upon conclusion (my gut is I’m outside of the age group this will hit hardest with), but I do appreciate its aesthetic and overall vibe. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair will be available for streaming April 22nd on HBOMax.
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