In a slow descent toward darkness and mystery, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair forces the audience to walk the line between the a supernatural horror and the illusion of one. In Jane Schoenbrun’s debut film, we follow Anna Cobb’s Casey as she documents her experiences after participating in the internet’s World’s Fair Challenge. Along the way, she encounters the mysterious JLB, played by an aptly creepy Michael J. Rogers, who validates and lures her deeper into the mythos of the challenge.
Set mostly in the attic bedroom of the teenage Casey, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair slowly moves along through the lonely Casey’s experiences from finding the challenge to her final experiences. The World’s Fair Challenge mimics the vibe of creepypasta and NoSleep culture online, where urban legends and ghost stories take form. Due to the nature of the internet, Casey soon encounters the faceless JLB, who speaks to her over Skype. It’s an alarming reminder of the anonymity and potential predatory actions of the people on the web.
Casey, who records her day-to-day life, from walking around the park to the nights she spends in her bedroom, is always alone. Distanced from her father, without any real school friends, she quickly falls prey to the online roleplay that is The World’s Fair challenge. Impressionable and young, Casey blurs the line between urban legend and reality. To her, what is real and what is fake is amorphous. JLB’s involvement further muddies the waters as she encounters an older man who validates her interest in this world.
It is only as Casey’s behavior morphs and changes that her relationship with JLB changes. Although JLB takes on a more parental and cautionary position, there is still something insidious in the way that he interacts with Casey. Struggling with his own mental health problems, his reliance on Casey’s participation feeds into her belief in this game. Shoenbrun’s direction is slow and steady, feeding us with snippets of Casey, first as an awkward and somehow trepidatious teenager, and eventually as someone affected by the myth of the game. Shoenbrun’s style is low-budget, flexing between genres. Their debut shows potential as they navigate complicated subject matters deftly, while also introducing powerful potential in Anna Cobb.
While its slow movement and genre-bending may turn off some viewers, this is a story that speaks to contemporary audiences. It uses the form of vlogs and technology to tell a story that touches on multiple themes of identity and truth.
This film review was based on the premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2021. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution. Photo by Daniel Patrick Carbone | Courtesy of Sundance Institute.