We're All Going to the World's Fair

Sundance 2021: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair Review

Doomscrolling on film isn't the best escape from COVID blahs

Creepypasta, like a plate of sticky microwaved leftover noodles, is a reheated meal. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair nukes the niche internet phenomenon of recycling horror stories. In this one, teen Casey (Anna Cobb) stumbles down a wormhole of audition videos. Glued to her computer screen night after night, she cuts her finger, spreads blood on her monitor, and intones, “I want to go to the World’s Fair.” The prize is a Willy Wonka ticket to feardotcomish role playing game. Although, admittedly, it’s never clear what the World’s Fair actually is despite the film’s fondness for repetition. (Lots of people say they want to go there, but the film omits the what/where/why.) Spooky things realise Casey’s darkest dreams/nightmares, yet satisfy her cravings like lickable wallpaper. Creepypasta, soggy spaghetti, and self-absue are all acquired tastes.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair explores themes of isolation and dysphoria as Casey creates new roles for herself. Director Jane Schoenbrun crafts this story from a personal place. It explores dark recesses of the psyche as Casey mutilates herself, longs for connection, and reaches out to the world. Stranger danger lurks around the web as Casey navigates audition videos like a Russian roulette playlist. She lands upon a lonely old man, JLB (Michael J. Rogers) who encourages her to pursue her golden ticket.

Stranger Danger

Their relationship develops through cat-and-mouse/dominant-submissive exchanges. There’s a clear dynamic of power and control, which feeds them both. Casey exposes herself further, live-streaming videos as she sleeps at night. JLB repurposes these videos, mutating Casey’s body in Paranormal Activity-like night terrors.

The shot/reverse shot dynamic of Casey and JLB’s online exchanges yields some nifty compositions. The film’s lone promotional image, for example, offers a wild splash of glow-in-the-dark madness to capture Casey’s state of mind. However, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair plays like a film conceived of singular shots, images, and scenes. Everything looks cool in isolation, but the film isn’t the sum of its parts.

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We’re All Suffering from Screen Fatigue

Cobb struggles to carry Fair and it’s a lot to ask an actor to perform solo in a feature debut. Frazzled, histrionic confessional diaries are fine on YouTube in five-minute bursts, but they make for a protracted film. There is little suspension of disbelief. The film’s conceptual framework amplifies its limitations, moreover, since it asks Cobb to go big for the inert webcams.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is built upon technology yet burdened by it. A niche group of horror fans will like seeing the online community brought to screen, but this is one of those movies where people mostly just stare at computer screens. One hopes that Fair isn’t an omen of what cinephiles can expect post-pandemic. The film, shot pre-COVID, looks like many of the let’s-throw-something-together-with-our-iPhones videos everyone made in the pandemic’s first wave. Isolated actors performing before DIY camera riggings may be the norm, however. Films can be dynamic when they embrace technology (see: R#J), but static long takes of drably lit bedrooms prove lacking. It’s like watching a Zoom call between two strangers for 80 minutes. Its uncanny portrait of people doomscrolling in isolation is now mundane.

A sense of screen fatigue hands atop We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Hell isn’t a descent into the dark chasm of Casey’s online lurking. It’s the insufferable banality of escaping doomscrolling and brain-frying video calls by watching people do the very same.

 

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair premiered at Sundance 2021.

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