WE'RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD"S FAIR poster | ©2022 Utopia

WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD”S FAIR poster | ©2022 Utopia

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers
Writer: Jane Schoenbrun
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Distributor: Utopia
Release Date: April 15, 2022 (select theatres); April 22, 2022 (wide theatrical and digital)

WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR is being billed as a horror movie. Insofar as severe depression and possible online predation are both legitimately horrifying, it qualifies. However, viewers who come in expecting anything like a conventional horror movie are not going to get one from writer/director Jane Schoenbrun’s character study.

Teenager Casey (Anna Cobb) is depressed. From what we can see as we accompany her on her walks around town, so is the whole environment, with closed stores and malls. (When Casey comes across a still-open AutoZone, she’s amazed.)

Casey has brightened up her attic bedroom with colored lights and candles. Talking to an audience on her computer, she says she’s decided to take “The World’s Fair Challenge.”

The game requires players to bleed onto their computer, then sit through something that causes light to rapidly change. It’s relatively brief. After this, players are meant to make videos documenting any changes they notice in themselves.

Casey says that she’s a horror movie fan and thinks it would be cool to live in a horror movie. What she doesn’t say, but we clearly understand, is that she’s so miserable that she’d be cool with some changes, even if they’re terrifying.

Another player, who calls himself JLB (Michael J. Rogers) reaches out to Casey, saying he’s concerned for her. JLB represents himself to Casey via audio and a Crypt Keeper-like still-artwork avatar, but we can see he’s a middle-aged guy in a middle-class environment. We can’t tell if he’s a predator, or just really lonely. For that matter, we can’t tell if he merely plays the game or perhaps invented it.

Casey used to walk in her sleep, and thinks the habit may be returning. She also can feel herself changing, she says in her uploads, into something bad.

WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR is not one of those movies that teeters on the line of is-it-real/is-it-supernatural ambiguity.  We’d have to be entirely in Casey’s frame of mind to believe anything was going on here beyond an agonizingly lonely person’s desire to believe that something is happening.

Casey checks out videos made by other players, who believe (or claim to) that they are changing. Casey believes that her own changes may force her to do something catastrophic.

What’s in no doubt here is the power of lead performer Cobb, in what the credits inform us is her feature film debut. She’s wholly natural, and we feel for her pain. Rogers keeps us guessing as to JLB’s motives, but he is also convincing as an isolated person, and comes off as largely sympathetic.

Otherwise, it’s hard to assess WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR. Schoenbrun keeps it visually interesting and nocturnally colorful. She also raises a lot of valid debate points about the wisdom of entertainment posing as reality to a largely credulous audience.

However, Schoenbrun runs into the inherent problem with this subject matter, which is how to depict monotony so severe that it impacts mental health without actually being monotonous. She also pushes our questions about perception and lies to the point that we don’t know what to make of the film’s final sequence.

This said, there is enough authorial skill and style here to indicate that WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR is the movie Schoenbrun intended to make.

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