A Chilling Internet Fable Has A Timely Resonance In ‘We’re All Going To The World’s Fair’ | Film+TV Reviews | Seven days

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  • Cobb plays a teenager with an ominous fixation on an online legend in Schoenbrun’s timely arthouse drama.

Sometimes, especially in the pandemic era, a film makes a splash at a major film festival and then disappears. I heard for the first time We’re all going to the world’s fair in reports from the virtual Sundance Film Festival in January 2021, but the film wasn’t released until April 2022, and only in three US theaters. Directed, written and edited by Jane Schoenbrun, this chilling arthouse drama about a teenager transfixed by an online legend is currently available to rent on various platforms. Expect to see it on HBO Max in the future.

The agreement

Alone in her attic bedroom, teenager Casey (Anna Cobb) turns on her laptop camera and announces to an unseen audience that she’s taking on the “world’s fair challenge.” She follows the steps of a ritual: repeating the words “I want to go to the Universal Exhibition”, smearing her own blood on the screen and watching a trance video. Then she sits and waits to undergo a transformation, promising to document it for her viewers.

But what kind of transformation? Casey watches videos in which other challenge participants describe feeling numb or pulled away from their bodies. A fan of the paranormal activity frankness, she imagines a demon waking up inside her while she sleeps. She sets up a camera by her bed, hoping to film her emergence.

Casey’s videos catch the attention of JLB (Michael J Rogers), a mysterious user who tells her she’s “in trouble” and offers to guide her through the perils of the World’s Fair. But what does he really want? And is she really in danger?

Will you like it?

Call for advertising material We’re all going to the world’s fair a horror movie, but it isn’t, except in the broadest sense of inducing floating terror. Rather than portraying its creepy meme as a literal truth, the film takes a long and hard look at the phenomenon of online legends and the people who revolve around them.

We learn everything we know about the Global Fair Challenge the same way Casey did: from videos released by the algorithm of a YouTube-like platform. A clip claims to show rare footage from a 1994 video game that gave rise to the legend – reminiscent of Polybius’ World’s Fair, a supposedly deadly 1980s arcade game that probably never existed. Such legends rarely hold water, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Supernatural stalker Slender Man, for example, started out as a photographer’s fabrication, but inspired a stabbing and other real-life violent acts.

Each of these myths has a range of fans, from those who enjoy it as a creative hoax to those who take it seriously. JLB, we learn little by little, is one of the first: the Universal Exhibition is a hobby for him. Tellingly, one of the stickies on his computer links the challenge to various conspiracy theories, including one that has had plenty of real-life fallout: QAnon.

Young and vulnerable, Casey takes the World’s Fair more seriously than JLB, but how seriously? That’s the question the film revolves around: is Casey faking the symptoms of demonic possession to gain weight? (“Thirty-two views,” she mumbles, frustrated by the poor performance of her early videos.) Or does she really believe the challenge is transforming her?

While the film’s pace is chillingly slow, Cobb’s riveting performance gives it momentum forward. Casey’s fear as the challenge approaches feels genuine, as does her loneliness and primal need for a mother figure, which she finds in a calming narrator of ASMR videos. Her “possession”, on the other hand, is clearly a role she plays, but one with an emotional truth behind it. When she interrupts a lip-sync performance with a blood-curdling scream, it’s both an obvious attempt to go viral and a real cry for help.

Schoenbrun retains the catharsis and resolution that viewers are likely to seek from the film. An angry user review notes that We’re all going to the world’s fair even breaks the cardinal rule called “Chekhov’s gun” (i.e., don’t put a gun in your drama if no one is going to shoot it).

But you also don’t expect spectacular resolution from an endless stream of online video, and that’s kind of the point. Narratives like QAnon derive their power from their looping, infinitely expansive quality. The ever-changing relationship between Casey and JLB, two people who never meet, symbolizes far greater conflicts between generations and belief systems. JLB believes in a clear difference between fiction and reality, even if he spends his time shooting fiction. In Casey’s mind, the line is much more blurred – and that blurring could have real consequences for all of us.

If you like it, try…

Impulse (2001; Kanopy, Pluto TV, Vudu, Tubi, For Rent): Kiyoshi Kurosawa may have directed the first horror film about a supernatural contagion that spreads online, setting a template for urban legends to come.

The den (2013; AMC+, IFC Films Unlimited): For a more typical horror film with an online setting, check out this chilling story of a web cat researcher who witnesses a murder, from director Zachary Donohue, a native from Vermont.

Eigth year (2018; Showtime, For Rent): Bo Burnham’s debut is another chilling exploration of what can happen when a lonely child searches for their identity online. The director’s special solo plan during confinement, Bo Burnham: Inside (2021; Netflix), is also worth watching for its alternately hilarious and disturbing insights into online culture.

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