Eerie and melancholy, Jane Schoenbrun’s horror-tinged drama We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is both a coming-of-age story and an examination of teens’ use of media and technology. It’s not always easy to watch, but it’s also very hard to look away as main character Casey (Anna Cobb) gets caught up in a creepy online role-playing game whose boundaries and impact are problematic at best and extremely dangerous at worst.
Casey spends hours in her room, physically alone but connected to others, in a way, via the laptop she stares into and makes videos with, sharing her musings and thoughts about a (fictional) infamous MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. When she finally decides to play, it’s with the knowledge that doing so might change her in some way — that’s what others online have said in the many clips and videos she’s seen, and she’s both excited and apprehensive to see what’s in store for her.
Her videos draw the attention of JLB (Michael J. Rogers), who reaches out to her to try to make a connection and, ultimately, to keep her safe, from both the game and from herself. They interact solely through their computers, though viewers see both “IRL,” as well as bits from other players’ videos, some of which are very unsettling (though never gory). Casey herself seems to be unraveling, though whether that’s due to the game or her apparent isolation is difficult to determine.
Schoenbrun, in her feature debut, gets a lot of bang for her presumably limited buck: She crafts an effective drama out of shadows, lighting, tension, keyboard clicks, and Cobb’s magnetic performance. Her portrayal of Casey — alternately confident and desperately insecure, in control and at the mercy of the screen she relies on to reach out to others — convincingly illustrates the complex relationship that so many teens have with technology and media. Are the kids all right? Not necessarily.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Sherin Nicole Art house, meditative, and as distant as a video call with a stranger, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is a quotidian nightmare. In it, Anna Cobb is a teenager eager to define herself but unsure of what that means, especially as she plunges into the sometimes murky, other times dystopian depths of the internet. The POV is distorted, without answers, other than the ways disconnect unravels us.
Susan Wloszczyna: The Blair Witch Project meets Eighth Grade as writer, director, and editor Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a sensitive though semi-creepy exploration of internet culture wrapped up in a coming-of-age tale that focuses on adolescent Casey (fab newcomer Anna Cobb), a shy girl in the boondocks who decides to take on the film’s titular on-line challenge in the middle of the night. When we first meet our young protagonist, she is alone save for her favorite stuffed monkey toy from her childhood during an eight-minute webcam shot as she faces her laptop screen on her desk amid her neon-lit attic bedroom. The movie relies on webcam perspective and smartphone shooting in many clever ways. Read full review.
Pam Grady: A teenage girl living a troubled life in the real world seeks community and adventure in the titular online role-playing game in writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s intriguing narrative feature debut. Ostensibly a horror movie in which a naïve kid immerses herself in a world that promises transformation, the real horror isn’t in the game but in the world the girl encounters whenever she leaves her bedroom. Read full review.
Marilyn Ferdinand As the most vulnerable members of our society, children and teenagers have an innate interest in things that go bump in the night—their survival depends on recognizing dangerous elements in their environment. The internet has become the new playground where children learn such lessons. Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair imagines a horror game that challenges children to join an online community that is trying to get to “the world’s fair” through physical and psychological transformation. As Casey, newcomer Anna Cobb effectively depicts the kind of lonely, withdrawn teenager whose desire to change into someone else draws her to a game that clearly frightens her. Why the older, well-heeled JLB (Michael J. Rogers) starts to follow Casey’s progress as her self-proclaimed protector is something more complicated and potentially dangerous. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a creepy, somewhat ambiguous and sad examination of our increasingly fraying connections to each other.
Leslie Combemale We’re all Going to the World’s Fair is particularly immersive, and that’s in large part to the credit of lead Anna Cobb as Casey. It’s not part of the screen life genre, but it still feels like we are part of the World’s Fair platform and Casey’s online life, and it that way, we are more invested in her trajectory of self-destruction. If all it offers as a message is “teens + the internet – parents = disaster or , that would be reason enough for the film to exist, but writer/director goes deeper into the damage isolation and loneliness can do to the human psyche. She examines the challenge of trying to become in a world that prefers us to be undone with unique vision and insight, greatly aided by her star. The film’s last scene creates more questions than answers, but that will appeal to any number of film fans who, like me, appreciate a weird ending.
Jennifer Merin The horror-tinged minimalist psycho-drama. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, is a first narrative feature from writer/director/editor Jane Schoenbrun, whose commitment to personal, art-driven cinema is evident in this slow burner — in some ways a teenage navel gaze — about a girl named Casey whose life is lived on and for the Internet via a disturbingly disconnecting (and self-destructive) Internet game/community — the name of which is the films title — with which she is obsessed and to which she is very vulnerable. Red full review.
Sandie Angulo Chen: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a fascinating if difficult-to-watch exploration of a teen girl’s descent into a viral horror internet game. The contemplative, unconventional coming-of-age drama from writer-director Jane Schoenbrun is rooted in the feature debut of actress Anna Cobb, who is mesmerizing as the main character Casey. The director purposely leaves much ambiguity about what’s performative, what’s real, and she adds a layer of even creepier behavior when one of Casey’s online “fans” turns out to be a wealthy obsessive of the creepypasta phenomenon. Alex G.’s atmospheric synth score, and Daniel Patrick Carbone’s close-up-heavy cinematography add to the moody proceedings. While not quite a crowd-pleaser, this is a thought-provoking and evocative film.
Loren King I can’t wait to see more from writer/director/editor Jane Schoenbrun after the difficult watch of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the filmmaker’s disturbing, trippy mash up of horror film and video game imagery. This movie wasn’t for me, but I can still appreciate the originality of its visuals and its story of a vulnerable, loner teen (the excellent Anna Cobb) slipping down a sinister online rabbit hole.
Liz Whittemore Voyeuristic intimacy meets horror internet challenge in We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, a film which speaks directly of the danger to the YouTube generation. Casey is a loner who seeks refuge online. When she takes an internet challenge that has had real-life, deadly consequences in recent years, her small world gets vastly stranger. We’re All Going To The World’s Fair tackles many weighty subjects; loneliness, depression, mental illness, identity, and gullibility. There’s the parent/child dynamic that, when present, is filled with fear and emotional abuse.
Cate Marquis We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is both the title of this psychodrama and the name of the online gaming community with which the film’s protagonist, 16-year-old Casey (Anna Cobb), is obsessed. The site describes itself as the “internet’s scariest online horror game” and shows an image of the 1939 NY World’s Fair globe sculpture. The story begins with Casey, alone in her bedroom, recording a video, saying she is accepting the World’s Fair Challenge, and pricking her finger to draw blood. In a later video, Casey confides she has always loved horror films and thought she would like to try living in one. This clever, twisty indie film starts out looking like Blair Witch Project but morphs into something much more interesting, and with much more creative photography. The film builds tension, particularly after another gamer contacts Casey, but then veers from horror into something more psychological. This first feature film from writer/director/editor Jane Schoenbrun is a testament to what good writing and good acting, can do, no matter the budget.
Title: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Release Date: April 15, 2022
Running Time: 86 minutes
Screenwriter: Jane Schoenbrun
Distribution Company: Utopia
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin