We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is available to rent on digital platforms.
CONTENT WARNING: This film includes several scenes involving photosensitive and flashing lights. Please take caution if you are epileptic. This film also features depictions of graphic self-harm, so please take discretion in watching this if this would have a negative impact on your mental health.
Casey is a teenage girl in a small town in upstate New York who is obsessed with the World’s Fair. It’s a roleplaying game, of sorts, where you rub your own blood on your computer screen and chant its name like it’s something out of Beetlejuice to get inside. She spends all of her time watching other people taking the challenge and recording its effects. It’s made very unclear whether these supernatural events are really happening or if they’re carefully designed fakeries (there is an answer to this, delivered far more subtly than a film like this usually does). The more you experience, the closer you get to the World’s Fair itself, which is never fully defined. Players seem to chase after it for its own sake rather than any rewards they might get. We only have Casey and the other players as a reference, except for a brief scene where her father screams at her for playing her videos all night long instead of sleeping. Her videos are incredibly unpopular at first, but she does have a really devoted older fan who begins to reach out to her to have phone calls over Skype, who calls himself JLB and uses an old creepypasta meme as his profile picture. This dynamic soon explodes as the two begin to delve towards the depths of the World’s Fair virtually and in person, finding the limits between online and the supernatural forces that lurk around every corner.
I’m being intentionally obtuse when it comes to describing this film. There aren’t really any jumpscares to speak of, though there are definitely quite a few moments that are genuinely disturbing, as Casey records her own reactions to having put this curse on herself, as JLB tries to slither closer and closer to her reality as opposed to being over just a computer screen. Without the context of how the internet has spiraled off into infinite subcultures, it can feel like watching a film in an alien language. It feels like that even to someone like me who has done a lot of what Casey does, albeit never with making myself bleed for a horror game. Her isolation is so total that she has resorted to speaking to herself when she’s not talking to JLB. His own motivations are slowly revealed too, giving the audience an omniscience that the characters lack.
This is technically a found footage film, since most of it is filmed by Casey. There’s only a few really climatic scenes where it suddenly switches to a more conventional mis en scene, and those are always for a reason. By design, the film is horribly underexposed and rough around the edges, and it’s daring you to judge it for those reasons. It invokes every strange or inexplicable video you might have scene late at night when the algorithm starts to take you to gross places. The internet has become our new ghost stories told around the campfire, now with the added effect of millions of amateur filmmakers and editors. This is the first feature by Jane Schoenbrun, who has previously worked primarily in multimedia projects that evoke the exact sort of creepiness and reality altering feeling this film seems to be addressing. Their work here as director, writer, and editor feels so unobtrusive you almost forget the film is directed at all, and I mean that as a compliment. It helps that Anna Cobb and Michael J. Rogers, the only two named cast members, work so well off each other to invoke an even creepier vibe. Cobb seems to never blink and her eyes are perpetually watering as she speaks in monotone, as Rogers breathes heavily into the mic and invokes Ghostface from Scream via Skype. For one who has never acted professionally before, and the other having served mostly in supporting television roles, it’s a well deserved showcase for both of their talents.
It’s more about the sense of near total isolation than the game itself. It’s for those nights where you can’t sleep and you watch ASMR videos to help calm yourself down because you haven’t experienced parental love or nurturing in so long that you have to fake it with a total stranger. It’s the thrill of having another person pay full attention to you despite the clear power imbalance he’s taking advantage of. I don’t say that as an endorsement, but I do see my interactions as a teenager with people far older than myself late at night, those who really should not have been talking to me even if they claimed to mean well. The point is that the online can be the supernatural to those of us who have grown up and those growing up. Stories of the Slender Man would not be so prevalent. I wouldn’t scare myself into not sleeping on the night I tried watching a series on YouTube called “alantutorial” (which this film feels very similar to on a much larger budget). The creepypastas about hacked versions of Pokemon games and various cartoon characters secretly being dead. That internet is still there even with all the tech conglomerates. It lives on in archives and the places the tech bros haven’t excavated yet. There’s so damn much of it that they won’t reach it all. The World’s Fair feels distinct and real because it is not a sensation sweeping the nation, it’s a tiny thing that only a few thousand people at most are participating in.
Either way, it is absolutely unnerving when it wants to be, as it tries to make us doubt whether or not Casey is play-acting the more bizarre her reaction videos get. It’s interesting, then, that we’re living in a time where role-playing in all its forms is getting more and more popular, until we don’t even know the difference between fiction and reality. It only takes a slight nudge for Casey believing in the World’s Fair to get her to believe in far more nefarious things. But that’s not ultimately what it’s trying to do. It wants to evoke a mood and it does so very successfully. That’s all you can ask for. Where it stands right now, it’s my favorite of the year so far.
I give We’re All Going To The World’s Fair an A.