SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – Written, edited, and directed by Jane Schoenbrun as his first feature film, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021) is an escapist horror nestled correctly in the 2021 Sundance Film Festival “Next” category, a lineup of movies that push the boundaries and have unique visions. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair belongs in this category because of the unique and special way that it addresses loneliness and internet culture in the world of a young woman. The movie delicately unpacks this very small world–shot with a cast of only 2–and lives in a cold, isolated, and distant atmosphere that becomes creepier and creepier with the passing days within this movie.
Casey (Anna Cobb) is a young teenager who spends an inordinate amount of time alone and on the internet, even watching ASMR emotional support videos instead of talking with her estranged parents. One day Casey decides to participate in an internet game called “the world’s fair challenge”, which entails repeating “I want to go to the world fair” 3 times and bleeding yourself while staring at a video–the result, supposed numbness of the body. Casey soon starts to feel “different” and is warned by an anonymous but concerned and caring man that she may be in danger after participating. Casey continually uploads videos of her day-to-day life after taking the challenge, in order to document the changes taking place within her.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair takes an almost excruciating long time to get started, and this slow and steady trend continues throughout the movie. Slow, but thankfully not tedious or labored, it is simply the kind of movie you have to be in the right mindset and setting for–prepare to watch an arthouse, coming-of-age, slightly cyber-web horror story. The movie is given some life here and there with music done by Alex G, producing a subdued indie rock soundtrack with lyrics and beats that drive home the teen angst captured in this film. To me, the movie felt like it lingered a lot in scenes, and the plot sort of just meanders until its expositional conclusion delivered by a supporting character–in the end, it felt like I had climbed a mountain with a character only to find the view at the top is of a vast white void.
Though I would not say that the movie is boring at all, it is definitely slow and very quiet as a lot of the time the camera is just following Casey around while she is hanging out alone. Anna Cobb is inarguably a powerhouse in this movie though, bringing all of the emotional weight to her role that a mature and experienced adult would in portraying a psychological horror–I am astonished that this movie is her feature film acting debut and impressed by her beautiful performance. It is unfortunate that such good acting capability could not overcome a plot that leads her to basically nowhere as it chooses to only gloss over her mental resolution in the end.
As someone who is into live-action role-playing, I did not feel like I was watching a ‘let’s play’ video of a LARP or alternate-reality-game as no one was assuming the role of a character or avatar, but this movie may strike a note for creepypasta fans, as Anna Cobb is seriously disturbing at times in how well she immerses herself in this game that pushes participants to emotionally dark places. I would not dare to ask for cheap jump scares or anything of the sort, but despite the handful of creepy and disturbing psychological moments, I did not feel much danger or fear for Casey while watching this movie.
It is difficult to pinpoint a bad guy in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the movie is based on internet lore, however, there it is not a clown or other monster that will come get you, but rather it is the darkness already within one’s self that will. It is easy to see why We’re All Going to the World’s Fair was included in SFF’s 2021 Next section, it is like a Paranormal Activity (2007) movie but for Gen Z–minimalistic in production, relatively tempered in its pacing, and delivering a unique new brand of horror all its own.
6.5 out of 10