It’s the Internet’s scariest online horror game, haven’t you heard of it before? Why, it’s the World’s Fair Challenge! It’s all the rage! Loner teenager Casey (Anna Cobb) decides to join this strange new game and document the results of its effects on her body. The symptoms are different for everyone; it’s like a conduit to access your dreams, and it completely changes you. For some, they deteriorate physically. In graphic fashion, one of the internet posts shows a man peeling an endless sleeve of tickets out from the flesh on his arm; another video features a boy literally pulled into his laptop. Defined by creepy and uncomfortable imagery, writer/director/editor Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair presents a disturbing vision of horror in the 21st century.
Bizarre, melodic visuals, ASMR, internet slang and an atmosphere of unrelenting terror coat the film in a wax of impenetrable cruelty. We watch helpless as the game spreads, widening its thrall over all the victims. The horror flavor here? Think The Blair Witch Project meets Donnie Darko, with some light Cronenberg body horror.
Anna Cobb is fantastic as Casey, plunging headfirst into madness. The movie’s only other character, the elusive and mysterious JLB (Michael J Rogers), at first contacts Casey over Skype, with a haunting drawing marking his profile photo. The anonymity of this stranger calls into question his true motivations. A danger lingers over his presence each time Casey hops on Skype to chat with him. Constantly swathed in deep shadow, the movie always finds a way to evoke an energy to keep you on your toes.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair owes a lot to films like Unfriended and The Den in its approach to the virtual landscape. While this isn’t set solely on a computer screen, it views technology through a similar lens. Its most horrifying scene, for me anyway, is a face-glitch that chilled me to the bone. If there was one word I would use to describe this film, the only thing that fits properly is ‘creepy.’ From the first frame to the very last, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is caked in dread and disturbing randomness. It makes one call into question your very own sanity as the threads of Casey’s mind unravel with the breezy runtime. Telling a cohesive story with extremely straightforward plot points clearly wasn’t on this movie’s mind. The ending leaves many threads dangling and forces the audience to draw their own conclusions about its complex themes.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair screened at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival, April 22nd – May 2nd.