The first movie that fills the sensation of reading creepypasta, rather than just using scripts for IP, Jane Schoenbrunn Narrative premiere We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a simple horror show that cares more about the everyday concerns of teen boredom and internet culture than anything supernatural. That’s not to say there’s nothing sinister going on in “World’s Fair,” named after “the Internet’s scariest horror game.” More so, Schoenbrunn seems acutely aware of the paradoxical attraction of the internet, and the ways in which it binds and isolates individuals looking to escape the stagnation of adolescence and the suburbs. Although it is very opaque near the end, and may not be the horror show one might expect, it is nonetheless an impressive debut.
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Switching between filmed confessions, newsfeed-like video rolls, and more traditional movie sets, “The World’s Fair” follows teen Casey (newcomer) Anna Cobb) because she lives in her blogs life. Bored with her worldly existence, she commits to playing the titular game and informs viewers of what is happening. Three cheers, a pin prick, and a powerful video later, it’s all part of an internet trend that seems to be transforming participants. Although like everything on the internet these days, there is little consensus on what this thing is – one mentions how they “turn plastic”, and the other reports that they are playing “Tetris” in their bodies.
What’s starting to happen to Casey is appropriately frightening, as she begins filming her sleep schedule and turning to ASMR videos to help with her growing sense of dread, but Schoenbrunn is more interested in the connections these kinds of viral games make, for better and better. , in the end, for the worse. Its updates are attracting the attention of JLB (Michael J. Rodgers), an older man who sends her vague messages about the trouble she’s fallen into – including one of her face that’s basically melting – to get her attention. When they start talking, JLB asks Casey for updates because, of course, he cares about her.
His attempts to express himself in Casey’s world are initially hailed by a teenager seeking any kind of human contact – her home life is confined almost exclusively to her bedroom with her stuffed animal, where her father sometimes screams to be quiet. When she ventures outside, it’s either to the local cemetery (where she’s filming a “tour” of her high school) or more often to photograph the crumbling city that surrounds her home.
But when things get a little weirder for Casey, Schoenbrunn makes an especially bold decision to walk away from Casey’s POV and instead follows JBL as he anxiously combs through her videos for anything he can talk to her about. From here, “World’s Fair” abandons Casey’s embedded narrative and begins simulating a scrolling newsfeed, switching between Casey and JBL and various online videos that contextualize and explain the role-playing game. It’s a confusing narrative decision, but one so fascinating, that it captures the obsessive qualities that these kinds of online trends often evoke.
JBL’s apparent attempts to groom Casey, and her particular yearning for communication, become the central tension in the latter half of the film, but “World’s Fair” resists subtle distinctions between genres at nearly every turn. Going from horror to thriller to character study, the film effectively and disturbingly flips the script onto something that would have been a bit more standard. What happens to Casey oscillates between the real and the fictional, and is not given a proper conclusion. Instead, we are given a disturbing picture of how online anonymizers often reveal the truth about people; A prospect more terrifying than anything that happens to those who participate in the game. [A-]