When Casey (Anna Cobb) decides to jump into the online horror game World’s Fair Challenge, she seems to do so without worrying about the uncertain consequences of such a game. Casey almost seems to make the decision like a lark, as if the boredom of her life means the results of the game can not make things worse for her. As Casey makes her first video documenting her Worlds Fair Challenge, she sticks her finger several times until it bleeds, watches a video, and then ends her video with promises of more videos recording what happens to her. When she finishes her first video, she sits alone in the dark, tearing her face down from the computer screen. Who knows what could happen to Casey as a writer / director Jane Schoenbrun‘s We’re all going to the World’s Fair? For Casey at the moment, it does not matter what could happen, but the joy of being part of a community – albeit an online one – makes the potentially awful opportunities worth it.
It is the malaise and insecurity that does We’re all going to the World’s Fair an effective and disturbingly modern horror tale, a creepy pasta story that comes to life. In the opening lyrics, Schoenbrun points to everyday life in the suburban area in which Casey lives, to the point that we understand why Casey would seek refuge to turn her own life into a horror story. The only time Casey seems excited is when she shares an experience during her sleep that she says felt like she was in Paranormal activity. Even when Casey watches videos of other people being “transformed” by the World’s Fair Challenge, with titles like “I Can’t Feel My Body!” or “I turn to plastic,” she seems unmoved by what could potentially happen to her. It seems that for Casey, any change is better than the reality she’s in right now.
Schoenbrun does a fantastic job of getting the audience to question whether the World’s Fair Challenge is real, or whether it’s all shit. The rules and steps are intentionally vague, and we wonder if this challenge in this world is a legitimate situation affecting players, or if it’s all just a comprehensive, massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Regardless of the legitimacy of the situation, Casey makes us question how far she is willing to go within this experience, whether she’s really changing, or whether she’s just great at making nerve-wracking content that only seen by a handful of people.
This concern comes in the form of JLB (Michael J. Rogers), an older player that offers an “in-game channel for serious players only.” He only shows himself to Casey with a creepy avatar and asks her to keep filming herself so he can know she’s still okay. Similarly, Schoenbrun does not provide easy answers about JLB and his true intentions or his level of dedication to this experience. Again, it’s the ambiguity about how genuine this experience is for both Casey and JLB that makes We’re all going to the World’s Fair a film that gets under the skin and crawls around until long after the film is finished.
But among the scary online videos, the potential breakdown of Casey through troubled videos and the possible horny nature of JLB, We’re all going to the World’s Fair is also a fascinating exploration of our extremely online culture, using the internet as comfort, escapism and even as a way to find communities that make someone feel not so alone. We never see Casey or JLB interact with anyone else in their world outside of the Internet. Casey’s father yells at her from another room, and JLB has an unspecified woman walking around his house, but in the real world, there’s an eerie isolation that permeates who they are. Casey keeps videos on at night to help her sleep, and when she decides to sleep to record her “changes,” it almost feels more like a way to let someone in instead of some form of documentation. JLB also seems to shut down when he’s not talking to Casey, as if he’s just sitting and waiting for his next online interaction.
On the Internet, we can be who we want to be. Online, you can escape the routine of everyday life and become part of a group of like-minded people. Even though the community is small, it is something. Accepting the World’s Fair Challenge is not a way to experience one The ring-like challenge that will probably lead to horrors beyond one’s wildest imagination, it’s a way to be a part of something, for heck the consequences. Schoenbrun’s impressive debut has to do with the idea of online communities, growing age and finding his own people through a really uncomfortable and unique horror story unlike any other.
Evaluation: B +
We’re all going to the World’s Fair is in theaters now and can be rented or purchased on VOD services.
How to watch ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’: Is it streaming or in cinemas?
About the author