MOVIE REVIEW: We're All Going to the World's Fair
There was once a time when I was a film and TV critic. Got the screeners sent to me and everything. Heck, I even had a website where my reviews were published. It's been a while, but I recently saw this little, low-budget, psychological thriller/horror movie called We're All Going to the World's Fair and just had to write about it.
One of my favorite genres of horror is the psychological horror. I love delving into someone's mind, then seeing the world through their eyes. These are the horror tales that seep into your brain and haunt you long after they are over. Right now, one of the best I have seen in a while is available to stream on HBO.
We're All Going to the World's Fair delves into loneliness, growing up, trying to connect to others, not feeling right in your own body, and the vast empty wilderness of the modern internet. You know, the type of place where a sad, lonely teen might try to find something, anything, to be a part of something else, only to find just emptiness, lies and deceit waiting on the other side.
The story contains almost no characters. At the center is the dazzling and amazing movie debut of actress Anna Cobb as Casey. Casey sits alone in her attic room and makes videos that, as far as we can tell, hardly anyone sees. She seems to have no friends. We only hear her father, down below, telling her to shut up when it's too late. It's winter in the town where she lives, and the barren, snow-filled scenery matches the bleakness we see within her.
She is going to participate in an online game called the World's Fair Challenge - the kind of thing you can easily find online these days. It starts with a ritual where she pricks her finger and smears blood on the computer screen, then recites "I want to go to the world's fair" three times. Others who have been participating in this game post videos reportedly showing horrible changes in their bodies. Casey starts posting her own videos.
I don't want to give too much else away here. You should watch the movie on your own. It is a remarkable piece of film-making. Director Jane Schoenbrun puts us right there with Casey. There are times when Anna Cobb's face fills the entire screen, and this small cast, tight story, pulls us right in through the screen. We are both watching along with the one other person in the story, but also right there in Casey's room. Is what happens really happening? Or is Casey merely pretending?
This is a story about the horrors of loneliness. It is the horror of wondering if you will ever fit in, and spending your days not fitting in with anyone or anything. Such profound loneliness leads to late night dives own dangerous rabbit holes on things like Creepy Pasta. Let us not forget this site gave birth to Slender Man, the first true digital urban legend, which led two disturbed girls to try and murder their classmate in order to summon him. This profound isolation can lead to truly horrific, and dangerous, things.
Jane Schoenbrun is also non-binary, and they have infused Casey and this story with what it's like to try and come to terms with that feeling. The feeling of not being right with your own body. Should I be feeling something? This question then leads to: Should I be feeling something else? Why am I not feeling the same way as everyone else?
Don't be fooled because the main character is a teen. I have news for the teens out there. That sensation of not knowing just what the hell your life is about and where it's going doesn't just magically disappear when you hit the age of 20. You simply find something to do and then feel what adults call "impostor syndrome." I am speaking from experience. Thus, the things Casey is experiencing, the feelings her journey invokes, feel just as real to adults as they do the teens.
At the center is Anna Cobb. What an amazing performance. She holds the entire movie together and you cannot take your eyes off of her. This is her film debut, and it is remarkable. Everything about her feels genuine. This is one of the best film debuts I have ever seen. I understand she is in the new film Bones and All, which I have not seen, but plan on it. I plan on following her career closely, because I feel she will do amazing things.
We're All Going to the World's Fair shows us the thing we all truly fear, especially late at night, when trying to sleep or staring at a computer or phone screen. The fear that the monsters may not be out there, but within. They hide inside our minds, and they most often turn their hunger against us. Speaking as someone who has battled depressive and suicidal thoughts off and on since sixth grade, I can vouch for this truth. Some turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, crime or any number of horrible things, to fend off those monsters. Sometimes, the isolated reach out the the faceless void of the internet. Only then do they learn the faceless void has teeth.
We're All Going to the World's Fair is a small movie. I debuted in festivals in 2021, then got a short release in spring of 2022. Sadly, this likely means the movie and Anna Cobb's performance, will likely be overlooked come awards time. That is a shame. I hope this movie will find its audience, and become one of those cult films people in the know tell others looking for knowledge about.
We're All Going to the World's Fair is now streaming on HBO Max. You should see it. If you are a teen, or the parent of a teen, you should definitely see it.