Over a year after it premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, indie horror movie We’re All Going to the World’s Fair found its way to a small number of US theatres. Now it’s available on VOD platforms as well as HBO Max. Several horror movies in recent memory have tackled viral challenges and the self-absorbent nature of social media and influencer subculture. Big studio movies (Truth or Dare, Slender Man) to smaller indie projects (#FromJennifer, Shook) the resulted have been mixed. But We’re All Going to the World’s Fair has uniformly impressed critics.
Somewhere in the United States, a lonely teen girl, Casey, finds solace in YouTube videos and online games. But when she decides to play viral online horror game, The World’s Fair Challenge, she becomes slowly obsessed with documenting the changes she believes she’s experiencing as a result of the game. Casey spends more and more time watching bizarre videos posted by other challengers. As her videos become increasingly unhinged, an anonymous user, ‘JLB’, warns Casey that she’s not safe.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair More Oddball Indie Than Horror
With her feature-length debut effort, writer and director Jane Schoenbrun immediately drops into Casey’s lonely world of digital escapism. It’s a world of YouTube oddities and creepypasta videos that initially promises a mumblegore style descent into horror. And for roughly most of its first half, Schoenbrun slow burns with disturbing imagery and Casey’s increasingly unnerving behaviour. Casey’s late-night sleepwalking that leads to her father’s shed and shotgun exemplifies the quiet, subtle found early in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. There’s also a certain ‘car crash’ quality initially to the digital rabbit hole that Casey descends into. And singer-songwriter Alex G lends a wonderfully eccentric score.
Rather than slow burn to a nail-finale or shocking reveal Schoenbrun burns out the concept.
Where We’re All Going to the World’s Fair diverges from either horror or thriller is in its final 30 minutes or so. Rather than slow burn to a nail-finale or shocking reveal Schoenbrun burns out the concept. Little happens as the movie plods along to what should feel like a Catfish moment – instead it’s presented in a more ‘matter-of-fact’ manner. Those YouTube videos that are initially transfixing may feel begin to feel tedious for anyone who finds TikTok, more annoying than entertaining. Of course, Shoenbrun likely didn’t intend We’re All Going to the World’s Fair to be a horror or thriller. This feels more like a 90s or 2000s indie mumblecore movie. Yes, it uses an online horror game as a jumping point. But Schoenbrun seems interested in exploring other themes.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair Features an Impressive Debut Performance
As a horror movie, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is likely to disappoint and frustrate viewers. Yet this isn’t to suggest Schoenbrun has made a bad movie. On the contrary, they’ve crafted a challenging, ambiguous examination of loneliness and the extent to which our digital culture blurs fact and fiction. Has Casey staged videos for a growing follower base as a way to alleviate her loneliness? Or is she slowly going mad? Is JLB a delusional man who believes Casey is in danger? Aside from some hints, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair never directly answers any questions. After Casey watches a World’s Fair challenger post a rambling video about their childhood toy, she later tears apart a stuff toy in a post. Nonetheless, Schoenbrun does cast a light on how people loses themselves in the performative world of social media.
Everything in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair hinges on Cobb’s portrayal of ‘Casey’ … And newcomer Cobb absolutely convinces …
Whether all viewers appreciate the movie’s nuances, one point with which no can really dispute is Anna Cobb’s performance. Everything in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair hinges on Cobb’s portrayal of ‘Casey’. After all, this is largely a one performer show. And newcomer Cobb absolutely convinces, drawing you into her isolated world. Though he’s mostly an offscreen presence, Michael J Rogers (Demonic), as user JLB, is similarly impressive in a smaller role. Rogers conveys a mix of sad desperation and loneliness that adds to the movie’s ambiguity.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair May Have Limited Appeal
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair proves to a be a difficult movie to review or recommend. Clearly, there’s talent behind and in front of the camera with interesting thematic threads running through the movie. And Alex G’s score lends a dreamy atmosphere to everything. Whether Schoenbrun intended it be a study of isolation or the how the performative nature of digital culture blends fact and fiction, We’re All Going to the World Fair has something to say. Too little happens, however, to sustain the story. Neither a horror movie nor a thriller, its ambiguity and lack of clear character arc also make it difficult to call it a coming-of-age tale. Ultimately, this feels like 90s and 2000s indie mumblecore.