“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” directed by Jane Schoenbrun, is a dizzying, slow-paced horror that uses the language of internet urban legend as a springboard to showcase the supreme loneliness of adolescence. Released April 15, the film follows the reclusive Casey (Anna Cobb) after she embarks in an internet horror game called the “World’s Fair Challenge” and her subsequent mental decline.
Clocking in just under 90 minutes, “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” completely defied my expectations of the formulaic and tried found-footage genre (although, to be fair, this film cannot be neatly classified as found-footage) and showcased the versatility of a genre I previously thought to be a one-trick pony.
I will say that you should absolutely not come into this film expecting a thrilling fear fest. Light in jumpscares and heavy in introspection, this film leaves its viewer with something much more dark than lingering nightmares, instilling dread and numbness as Casey’s descent into something bordering on possession unfolds in parallel to the much more sinister mental health issues the teen is suffering from.
There are only two characters in the film (three if you count the looming, disembodied specter of Casey’s father). Casey’s video of her doing the World’s Fair Challenge is discovered by a member of the World’s Fair community known only as JLB. An anxious middle-aged man living out of his parents’ home, JLB parallels Casey in his total isolation — he asks Casey to continue filming herself as the symptoms of the World’s Fair Challenge progress, through which Casey becomes increasingly more hostile towards him, herself and her father.
Schoenbrun is quite light on the lore of the World’s Fair Challenge. The viewer is immediately plunged into the world with little to no explanation, although the game’s parallels to similar internet urban legends and horror challenges make it fairly easy to follow along.
What truly makes this film is Cobb’s remarkable performance. Still a teenager herself at the time of filming, she was tasked with essentially carrying the entire film on her back — a feat she accomplishes with ease. Her performance was incredibly natural, perfectly encapsulating the feeling of being a lonely, awkward teen trapped inside her own mind.
In fact, this film is just as much a coming-of-age story as it is horror, perhaps even more so. It is quite slow-moving; although perhaps a bit of a slog towards the beginning, once JLB is introduced and the film settles into its rhythm, the simple yet effective narrative unwinds itself with utmost tension as a discordant note is struck between the seemingly supernatural elements and the very grounded daily issues Casey faces.
The music, composed by musician Alex G, adds to this narrative dissonance. Rather than the overt, booming tremors most associate with your typical horror flick, some of the film’s most tense moments are accompanied by fuzzy indie guitar lines, challenging the typical format and perfectly complimenting the much more satiating thematic elements in this movie compared to what I’ve come to expect from recent instillation to the found-footage genre.
All in all, this movie perfectly captured the horror of growing up and finding yourself alone in the world in a way that didn’t feel cliche nor exploitative. Even with its paranormal aspects, “We’re All Going To the World’s Fair” felt like one of the most honest depictions of being a teenager I have seen in a very long time, in all of its awkward dreadful glory.
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @zarrazledazzle