Review of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

When it premiered at Sundance a year ago, We’re all going to the world’s fair couldn’t help but look like a mirror held up to its audience, reflecting the isolation of the average virtual viewer. It helped to experience this haunting microbudget mood piece months after the pandemic began, and through a laptop screen, the same black hole that absorbs its teenage heroine. Yet the film’s resonance goes beyond the limits of our particular moment, shifting from the loneliness of the immediate now to the loneliness of the indefinite now. Since we have the Internet, we have movies on 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 first feature film) lives in an unidentified stretch of nowhere in America, a deserted small town of empty fields and deserted parking lots of Toys “R” Us We never see his parents and only hear from them once; bellowing for quiet in the dead of night and on the other side of a wall, they seem as far from her as the other message board trawlers and YouTube artists she follows. Like the Kayla of the same name from Eigth year, the sunny yin of this film’s doomy-macabre yang, Casey apparently has no friends or social life. Unlike Kayla, her main interest is creepypasta, that online community of horror folklorists and urban legend fanatics.

Specifically, she’s drawn to a role-playing game called The World’s Fair, in which participants speak a Candyman-like mantra into their devices, then creatively document supposed supernatural changes to their bodies and minds. We first meet Casey as she joins the game, via a webcam session that serves as the film’s extended opening shot. After a false start, she tidies up her room and dims the lights for better ambiance, before reigniting herself in a session of pinpricks, strobe lights and repeated incantation. From the jump, the film brings to the fore the question of where the performance ends and where the real Casey begins. It’s a line that will only fade as it plods into the pixelated unknown.

Jane Schoenbrun, Writer, Director and Editor of The Triple Threat We’re all going to the world’s fair, fully immerses us in Casey’s browsing habits – which, by the uncanny logic of this mystery feature debut, might be indistinguishable from his psychology. Long sequences play from the girl’s webcam, and Casey happily draws inspiration from the visual language of horror for her vlogs, at one point performing a reasonably spooky riff on Night Watch chills of paranormal activity. The structure, meanwhile, almost suggests a chain of hits, queuing up related videos as the teenager switches between her own performance art and that of other players in her stream. If this fictional character made a movie about his life, it would probably look a lot like We’re all going to the world’s fair.

On a screen, an internet performance pretends to be plastic.

Is Casey really sucked into the hungry mouth of the internet, dropping post after post? Or does she expertly take her sleight of hand in a game, cosplaying a slow-motion breakdown? Schoenbrun keeps the questions hanging like storm clouds, with vital help from their frightening, opaque star. Cobb has the improvised vulnerability of a budding web celebrity, expertly conveying the ease of a generation that grew up in front of the camera and the unease of someone who might lose touch with reality, disappearing under makeup that glows in the dark and outbursts of questionably simulated despair. His best scenes turn audiences into emotional detectives, sorting out truth from artifice. Take, for example, the moment Casey interrupts his own TikTok-ready song-and-dance routine with a sudden, bloody screech. It’s seamlessly a sanity-shattering pantomime, an act. But Cobb lets us see the real desperation that seethes under Casey’s imitation.

We’re all going to the world’s fair can be as unsettling, in the creeping psychological darkness of its material, as the creepy genre it resembles. It’s hard to watch the film and not think of stories of real-life teenagers falling down YouTube rabbit holes of suicidal depression or taking a wrong turn in right-wing radicalization. friendlessanother one of the few essential movies about life online in the 21st century, used its ingenious laptop vision trick to savage the way some teenagers compartmentalize their dark sides, cyber-bullying from the security of anonymity. World exhibitionwhich borrows the techniques (but not the limitations) of Screenlife and found-picture thrillers, comes to a no more comforting conclusion: for some children, there may be no meaningful distinction between the “real” them and who they are. in line.

Anna Cobb becomes a scarecrow for her webcam fans.

But We’re all going to the world’s fair is not a cautionary tale for worried parents. Why sound the alarm on a world that has already happened? The tone is more ambivalent, undermining anxiety with optimism. It’s there in a do-it-yourself appreciation for this particular storytelling subculture and the creative victories of children like Casey, a genuinely up-and-coming artist, whether she sees herself as such or not. (At a time when filmmakers are still struggling to make phone and computer interfaces interesting to watch, here’s a film that finds its beauty in the harsh digital textures of streaming video and the faces lit up by flashing lights. of a monitor.) There’s also the way the non-binary Schoenbrun offers a metaphor for dysphoria in their plot mythology, running a line of influence towards a precursor example of genre internet cinema , The matrix. As the film points out, not all identity transformations are destructive or harmful.

Eventually, Casey forges a connection with an older male player, a deep voice behind a creepy avatar. An audience’s first instinct might be protective alarm, especially when actor Michael J. Rogers turns out to be Jackie Earle Haley’s lookalike. But here too, Schoenbrun resists easy answers, until an incredibly ambiguous ending. The implications are troubling but far from obvious; where another filmmaker might point out the danger of reaching the digital abyss for a lifeline, this one only laments its impossibility – the way the computer screen will never truly be permeable, no matter the empathy we pour into it. The ultimate roleplay, the film implies, is pretending you might actually know someone online.

We’re all going to the world’s fair opens in select theaters April 15 and is available to rent or purchase on digital platforms April 22. For more reviews and writings by AA Dowd, visit his Authory page.

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