We’re All Going to the World’s Fair [Grimmfest Review]: Welcome to the Internet
Part desktop horror film, part internet era coming of age story, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, has been on my watch list since it captivated audiences at Sundance Festival early this year. The strange poster of a neon painted teen with a toy glass eye wormed its way into my brain and wouldn’t relent until I was able to see this film. Finally, Grimmfest gave me the opportunity to watch this strange and surreal independent film as part of it’s UK Premiere, and I must say, it was worth the wait, and the praise it received.
Casey (Anna Cobb) is going to take the World’s Fair challenge. Like many viral challenges it’s a form of social media game, in the same vein as old school ‘Bloody Mary’ but with a YouTube twist, that means it’s participants record the symptoms they experience once they have initiated the game. The lights are out, she’s given the blood sacrifice to the screen, and said the words, “I want to go to the World’s Fair” three times, initiating this online ritual. A cacophony of flashing colours and pounding sounds permeate Casey’s screen as we stay entirely focused on her unmoving, unflinching face. Then, the true journey into the repercussions of this online fad and the strange online relationship she begins, can start.
“In the era of online Urban Legends and endless Creepypasta’s this is an exceptional exploration of how these traditions have never disappeared but simply been updated for the internet age.”
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a slow burn of surreal imagery told partly through the screen, in the vein of Unfriended and recent lockdown hit Host, but mixed with traditional narrative storytelling that expands on the lonely and desperate world Casey is a part of. She lives in a dying industrial town, a montage of abandoned shops that haven’t existed in years and desolate car parks, proving there’s no wonder she feels trapped and isolated. She lacks any real life interaction, there are no physical friends, even her single father is only ever heard off-screen, and their interaction can hardly be called a conversation. Her only release, her only escape from the crushing loneliness, is her computer. The internet is her comfort, lulling her to sleep with ASMR videos. It is her social outlet, linking her to others who have participated in the challenge. It is her escape, allowing her to be seen as somebody, even if that is just another visitor to the World’s Fair.
In the era of online Urban Legends and endless Creepypasta’s this is an exceptional exploration of how these traditions have never disappeared but simply been updated for the internet age. Through the cleverly interspersed videos of other ‘World Fairers’ we see the mythology that has been created around this internet sensation. A beautiful young woman is turning plastic, shining like a Barbie doll. A young man has become numb to all external feelings. Another has let the game get uncomfortably under his skin as he picks at a scab and reveals a reel of ‘admit one’ tickets from beneath his flesh. It’s all part of the world we now understand as we fall down online rabbit holes wondering where the line between fiction and reality is whilst desperately, and at times a little shamefully, hoping there’s a semblance of truth to these insane stories. Just for something to do. Just for something to talk about. Because, just like Casey, we as an audience of genre lovers have also always wondered what it would be like to live in a Horror film.
As Casey delves deeper into this online game she begins to receive ominous and nightmarish videos from another player, warning her of what he is seeing in her symptoms. With the screen name JLB (Michael J Rogers) and a hand drawn avatar, this mysterious World’s Fair expert begins to integrate himself into Casey’s online life. What starts out as game based interactions soon turns into concern on JLB’s part and annoyance on Casey’s. Something shown beautifully in a video of her performing a tarot read, that just becomes a ‘read’ of this man. The interactions between these two are left for the audience to fully interpret, he presents behaviours seen in online groomers, complimenting her intelligence and making her feel special and unique. Yet, when Schoenbrun allows us access to his isolated life and conspiracy covered desktop it seems to hint at something else. Is he simply lonely and using this game as an escape, has he lost someone and delved into conspiracy to deal with it, or is he in fact a dangerous predator? The lack of a solid stance on this, and on what exactly Casey is going through, is what makes this film so encapsulating. We are all going on this journey to the World’s Fair, and we can all make up our own minds about the outcomes.
“Director Jane Schoenbrun, does an excellent job of treading this line and really tapping into today’s technological sphere and its personal implications all whilst offering beautifully disturbing visuals and a tender coming-of-age story.”
Relative newcomer Anna Cob plays Casey and brings an incredible performance to the screen, making her character feel like a realistic teenager lost in an online world. It is almost impossible not to be drawn into this film. There is a beautiful awkwardness to her performance that encompasses the teen experience, especially that of a teenage girl who feels alone and bereft in the life she has been assigned in the real world. She is in nearly every sequence of the film, carrying its bizarre and yet encapsulating story with her performance. The ease with which she handles a character who may be experiencing a world altering psychosis from an online game, or may just be dealing with existential trauma and mental health issues, is nothing but commendable.
There’s something intrinsically modern about this film, it is speaking to a specific generation, the ones who grew up with access to the world wide web. Casey’s lack of social skills and shy nature are contrasted with the fact she’s willing to document her life in a very personal way through confessionals, and this is the contradiction the internet age has always seemingly dealt with. The exploration of an online space as not just a fearful and dangerous place but as one of comfort and intervention is what puts it above other films that want to demonstrate the horror of an online landscape. Yes, there are dangers out there, people who may take too much interest, people that make untoward or downright cruel comments, but there are also havens and safe spaces. Director Jane Schoenbrun, does an excellent job of treading this line and really tapping into today’s technological sphere and its personal implications all whilst offering beautifully disturbing visuals and a tender coming-of-age story.