We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
  • Director: Jane Schoenbrun
  • Writer: Jane Schoenbrun
  • Starring: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers
  • Release Date: Sundance

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair Trailer


Things that are bad happen in groups of three. Folklore and horror films have been saying this for a long time. Bloody Mary is a cocktail made with tequila. Candyman. Beetlejuice. Now comes Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, a coming-of-age film that is both constitutionally melancholy and perfectly suited to the creepypasta era. Camping ghost stories aren’t going away, even as more and more people retreat into carefully constructed digital worlds. As a result, they’ve continued to haunt us through our social media feeds and Reddit threads, our subscribed YouTube channels, and, for that matter, our news outlets, which publish a brand new horror story nearly every damn day. The internet is not a safe haven from fear. It’s a great place for it to thrive.

To be sure, we’re all going to the World’s Fair in Chicago. While it may appear to be a horror film on the surface, it isn’t one at all—despite the fact that the title sounds like an invocation chanted by cultists doomed to whatever awaits them at the fairgrounds. The opening sequence, in which young Casey (Anna Cobb) recites the phrase three times while staring wide-eyed at her computer monitor, demonstrates that this is, in fact, more or less exactly what the film is about. It’s harmless enough if a little eerie. In order to complete the ritual, she pricks her finger with a button’s pin approximately two dozen times in rapid succession and streaks her blood on the screen (though it is just out of the audience’s line of sight) to conclude the performance. Nothing else can be done but await her transformation as a result of her participation in this online “game,” which is akin to an Eisensteinian rite of passage.

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In order for viewers to be perplexed, Schoenbrun wants them to question whether those changes are genuine and whether the changes documented by other participants in the “World’s Fair challenge” are genuine or staged. They’re untrustworthy as narrators. To a certain extent, Casey is the same way, insofar as teenagers embarking on their first journey into the adult world can be relied upon for anything resembling objectivity. Another question is where exactly Casey draws the line between reality and macabre make-believe, and whether or not that belief is based on fact or fiction. Is it possible that there is a ghost in the machine? Alternatively, it is possible that a life spent primarily in virtual space (because physical space is dominated by isolation and poor paternal relationships) naturally predisposes people to delusion at the worst and an unerring sense of disembodiment at the best.

Casey, in one of her video diaries, appears to have the latter quality: she breaks the fourth wall and says: “It was like I was watching myself on a television screen that was across the room,” she says of her waking nightmares as a child. “I was conscious of my actions, yes, I was conscious of my actions, but I couldn’t control myself.” Since beginning her journey through the World’s Fair challenge, she’s felt a rush of adrenaline rush through her veins. Casey’s recollections of that childhood sensation express her increased sense of foreboding as a teenager as a result of her recollections. Other participants document the body horrors that have been inflicted upon them since accepting the challenge, which includes a jarring video message sent to her by an anonymous fellow challenge participant named JLB (Michael J. Rogers) and a V/H/S-style series of clips in which other participants document the body horrors that have been inflicted upon them since accepting the challenge.

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Even in the scenes where Casey isn’t present, Schoenbrun’s film conveys the impressionability of the character. As a spiritual cousin to Eighth Grade, think of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair as Kayla Day falling down a creepypasta rabbit hole with no Hare or Hatter to guide her back to the light at the end of the tunnel. Confronting one’s fears on one’s own is an important part of growing up. Throughout the film, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the characters are reminded that there are limits to how much darkness anyone can—or should—face alone before they are swallowed up by it. Casey’s journey through the never-ending parade of messed-up web content proves to be too dark for her, and the film’s most grim moments reach terrifying heights of nerve-wracking dread. However, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is more than just a terrifying film; it is also confidently weird and profoundly sad. Coming of age shouldn’t be so desolate. But it is. Without a doubt, we all make our way to adulthood on our own terms, but Casey has no one to accompany her down that path. She doesn’t appear to have any friends that we can see or hear about. Her father is a clumsy, uncaring jerk. It is JLB who is her only rock, and clinging to the shoulder of a grown man who is communicating with you over Skype can be a strange and uncomfortable experience for a teenage girl, to say the least.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair comes to a close with ambiguity and a sense of loss in the air, as if we’re supposed to consider leaving childhood behind as a form of tragic loss. If we speak in Schoenbrun’s own words, that process is painful and transformative, and it’s foremost a psychological experience, regardless of the film’s bare-bones visual pleasures. Outside forces have an impact on Casey, but she ultimately has control over the direction in which those forces take her. To an extent, this is a liberating realization. However, Schoenbrun’s portrayal of Casey as a lonesome individual contradicts the collective dynamic implied by the title We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Even on the Internet, she has only herself to rely on.

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