We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a surreal Horror film from Jane Schoenbrun (Collective: unconscious 2016, A Self-Induced Hallucination 2019). They have worked in a variety of roles behind the scenes- co-creating the touring variety series The Eyeslicer with the Meow Wolf art collective, being Kickstarter’s Senior Film Lead, and creating the Radical Film Fair in 2018.
This is their first narrative feature as writer & director, and it will open at the BAM in Brooklyn, the Quad Cinema in Manhattan, and the Music Box Theatre in Chicago on April 15, 2022. If one is unlucky enough not to be in those areas, the film will be available across US cinemas and on digital platforms on April 22, 2022.
The film is about a teenager called Casey (Anna Cobb: Summer Snow 2014, Beauty Marks 2020) who, alone in her attic bedroom, decides to take part in an online Horror RPG called the World’s Fair Challenge. It promises new opportunities in the uncertainty it brings, so Casey decides to record any changes it may or may not bring by uploading videos to the internet. As her perception of reality gets more warped, a mysterious figure called JLB (Michael J. Rogers: Continuum 2012, Sollers Point 2017) emerges and reaches out to her. But are they trying to help her or hurt her?
So, on the face of it, it is an artsy creepypasta film- a girl on webcam doing an internet challenge and succumbing to it. Though one that earned it two jury awards each from the Indie Memphis Film Festival and Montclair Film Festival, along with some more nominations from the film festival circuit. Then again, one could get snarky and say they would give the artsy films a pass. Better to be quirky than scary, right?
Being honest, the film does play into that angle. It has a slow pace, taking about 30-40 minutes before the effects of the challenge really start amping up. Before then, it kind of builds up the characters and setting? It is set in a dead-end town, and Casey has little to do but go online and take part in internet challenges. Though it is only after she takes part that she looks up what it has done to others. Like one girl (Holly Anne Frink: Three Trees (In Three Parts) 2018, WeCrashed 2022) who thinks she is made of plastic, and another (May ‘NyxFears’ Leitz of YouTube fame) who, um, sits on her couch with angel wings while looking at the camera. Okay.
Casey’s own increasingly odd behavior can sometimes be eerie, or suggest she is possessed by some entity. Most notably is a singing and dancing scene that goes awry, or the facepaint scene the film’s poster and publicity images comes from. Other times, it is simply confusing, like arguing with a Santa figure, or showing which random parts of the town she is in (“Autozoooonneee…”). Yet taken altogether, it kind of works. Better than the random YouTube contributions anyway which, while freaky, are somewhat out of place.
The slow pace works with Casey’s scenes as it shows her gradual succumbing to the World’s Fair challenge. Like it shows a gradual arc of an ordinary teenager becoming increasingly plagued by something beyond their control. So, even if it is a rather vague challenge (where did it come from? what are its roots? who knows?), it has a tangible, skin-crawling effect on the people who take part in it. It is also quite relatable, with the popularity of creepypastas and internet challenges in the last decade, and the people who took them too seriously.
Cobb does well in her feature film debut here, as does Rogers as JLB. It is technically solid too, going between Casey’s phone-quality vlogs and the film’s own widescreen, HD look. Alex G’s music also helps deliver the eerie mood the film is going for. That way, even if the scary scenes feel more like non-sequiturs, they still feel off in the right way. There is quite a bit to praise here. However, the film’s biggest sin is its ending. After its slow-burn first act, YouTube additions, and some genuinely creepy scenes, without giving too much away, the film just stops. It goes through all that build-up just to end in a way that is sure to annoy some viewers. Which is a shame for We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.
Schoenbrun shows a familiarity with creepypastas and dodgy internet challenges- both popular online things people took too seriously over the past decade. Using that, they crafted a rather creepy and somewhat effective flick. The slow pace can be a turn-off, but it helps the later scary scenes. If it ended on a better note, it would have been fairly solid. As it is, the film is worth a cautious recommendation, as it is a drawn-out yet spooky journey to a weak destination. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives We’re All Going to the World’s Fair 3 out of 5 stars.