Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is an unsettling look into the abyss of internet culture and an adolescent mind.
The internet is a strange place. It is a Wild West of beneficial information and dark secrets you can’t unsee. You can find a community of like-minded weirdos, an endless collection of distracting nonsense, or whole libraries of talented artists sharing makeup tips, writing skills, or citizen detective abilities.
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It can be a place to experiment with who and what you want to be. But unfortunately, it can also be a dangerous, lonely place where the most vulnerable and the most damaging collide.
It’s hard to categorize We’re All Going To The World’s Fair. Playing as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, there are elements of horror and intense psychodrama meticulously woven together with clever staging, a haunting soundtrack, and the dreaded buffering icon. There is zero gore and no cheap scares. That doesn’t mean it isn’t terrifying.
It’s tough to be a teenager today. Between the allure of lost time in a digital world to the pressures of inventing yourself while being both isolated and simultaneously hyper-connected, it is lonely, scary, and fraught with peril. The hyper-realism of the story and camera work speak to the real world fears that keep us up at night.
Jane Schoenbrun’s feature film debut is a chilling portrayal of adolescent grief and societal loneliness. It is a coming-of-age story bookended by horror elements of the fictional and factual kind. It is quiet in its scares, seeking to stealthily deliver gut punches that disturb you long after the film ends. Similar to A 24’s stellar The Humans, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is the definition of elevated horror. It is inventive and affecting in its simplicity and it’s about so much more than what we see.
We’re All Going To The World’s Fair feels like Megan Is Missing, another movie that shows the dangers of online friendships. Like a Megan is Missing cousin minus the final act grotesque reveal, it is somehow even more horrifying and sad-think black hole sad. The kind of all-consuming feeling that fills a space with an inky unavoidable void. There is tenderness, too, that reminds us that we aren’t alone in our pain.
The film opens with a nine-minute scene where Casey films herself doing the newest horror RPG called The World’s Fair. Fans of creepypasta and Reddit know the rabbit holes these kinds of things can take you. The allure of being lost in another world is strong when your life seems bleak. This introduction paints a picture of a socially awkward young girl searching for validation and seeking cheap thrills. She presents as curious and fragile, but we don’t know her any more than we know the millions of faces that present challenges, web diaries, or Wattpad entries. Even the most honest of us curate what we let others see.
Early on, sweet and vulnerable, Casey makes videos searching for a connection and herself. She tries on personas like hats to find one that works for her. She gets contacted by someone named JLB who wants to talk with her about her videos. He claims she is in trouble and acts like a World’s Fair expert. The camera pulls back to reveal though, it is a middle-aged man played by genre mainstay Michael J Roberts(last year’s gory Demonic). Their relationship has all the hallmarks of a dangerous online affair.
There is something invasive about the melancholy feel of the film and the predatory nature of Casey’s relationship with JLB, who lives in a large house with someone only seen in brief glimpses. Who is he really? His behavior is clearly grooming, but it shifts into paternal fear when Casey’s behavior becomes erratic. Can a predator become a hero? Is Casey even in trouble, or is this just another identity she is trying?
That shift reminds the viewer that we don’t really know either of these people. Both characters have been introduced almost exclusively through their videos, chats, and online writings. Neither character gives their real name, as we later find out. How much was real, and how much was adolescent experimentation? The kind of role play explored on Tik Tok and YouTube where you can be anyone for a while with new makeup and an idea.
Shot with a shrewd mix of smartphones, laptops, and handheld cameras, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is deceptively simple. Lit with harsh daytime vistas and glow-in-the-dark claustrophobic spaces, it consumes you with its mundanity. That focus lets the performances shine. Anna Cobb(Casey) is a baby-faced young girl desperate for a connection. We see nothing of her outside life and only hear her father as he comes home, and she scurries up to her room rather than speak to him. We never see them communicate to save a late-night reprimand when she should be sleeping.
A particularly devastating scene shows Casey looking at a rifle, caressing it awkwardly before inexplicably putting it away and returning to her room. Another instance vibrating with emotion shows Casey curled up with an AMSR video trying to calm herself back to sleep. The increasingly pervasive quality of the videos she uses to soothe herself and satisfy her fascination drives the tension. Casey needs help, and something terrible is coming, paranormal or not.
The powerful exploration of the human experience in our increasingly digital, the isolated world is intense and unexpectedly tender. The film ends with JLB’s disturbing recounting of her message to him. The bizarre performance is terrifying in its ambiguity. Who knows what happened to Casey and if JLB’s story can be trusted at all. We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is a must-see for fans of unusual horror.
You can still get tickets for the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.