Looking at the plot of writer/director Jane Schoenbrun’s (A Self-Induced Hallucination) We’re All Going to the World’s Fair it certainly sounds like a typical internet-based horror film. Casey (Anna Cobb), a seemingly normal teenager takes the “World’s Fair Challenge”. This involves saying “I want to go to the world’s fair” three times, smearing some of her blood on her laptop, watching a video, and recording what happens next.
The opening scenes are shot from the perspective of her laptop’s camera just reinforces that impression. It also gives the viewer the idea that it may be a found footage film as well. As it turns out it’s neither and is also about as far removed from typical creepypasta films like Bloody Mary and 7 Deadly Sins as it gets. And despite the film’s billing, it’s pretty far from horror films in general for that matter.
The vista of strip malls with empty stores and highways through the woods that we see under the opening credits is a more accurate portrayal of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’s subject matter. Life and loneliness in East Nowhere USA with a side helping of internet angst.
Schoenbrun does a great job of capturing Casey’s existence. There’s no trace of her mother and she avoids her father, running up to her room when his car pulls into the driveway. About the only interaction she has with him is his yelling up the stairs at her, so her avoidance is understandable. Whether his unpleasantness is the cause of or a reaction to, her mother’s absence is like so many things in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, left unanswered.
In her loneliness, she turns to the internet for companionship and interaction. And this is where JLB (Michael J Rogers, Demonic, So Cold the River) comes in. He’s an older man who claims to be knowledgeable about the World’s Fair Challenge and its effects. But is he sincerely trying to help Casey? Or is he a predator out to exploit her situation? And if he is sincere, is he right about the game and its consequences?
At this point, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair briefly feels like it is going to become a more conventional genre film. We’ve seen some of the videos from others who claim to have taken the challenge including a girl who says she’s turning into plastic and a man who says he has a feeling like someone is playing Tetris inside his body. Could there really be something supernatural going on after all?
My main problem with We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is its lack of a cohesive narrative. It’s assembled from bits and pieces of Casey’s videos, other people’s videos, and a smattering of her offline activities. It’s as much a cut-and-paste collage or portrait as it is a plot. It certainly gets its point across, but it lacks focus and feels disjointed in a few places.
While it does have moments of weirdness, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is never scary in the sense you would expect. If anything about it is frightening it’s the fact that what it depicts is rooted in reality. Both in the kind of isolation Casey lives in, and the lengths some will go to deal with it. Just think of the Tide Pod or the Blue Whale Challenges. It’s a strong piece of drama that left me feeling depressed rather than scared.
Lightbulb Film Distribution will release We’re All Going To The World’s Fair to UK cinemas on April 29th, and on Digital Download and Blu-ray from May 9th. In the US, Utopia gave it a limited theatrical release on April 15th, it comes to VOD and Digital platforms on the 22nd.