SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Casey (Anna Cobb) languishes in her room at the beginning of the stunning We Are All Going to the World’s Fair. Amidst a spacious finished attic awash in black lights and glowing stars, Casey stares at her laptop screen and announces that she will be taking the “World’s Fair Challenge.” This is an online role-playing horror game in which participants chant, “I Want to go to the World’s Fair” three times, prick their finger to smear blood on their screen, then document their respective descents into madness via online videos.
Silly maybe, but to the shy Casey, this is a chance to become something more than who she is. Blurring the lines between pretense and conviction, writer/ director Jane Schoenbrun’s gutsy feature debut explores themes of connection, teen existential dread, and urban legends in a striking new way. Anchored by an iconic turn from Cobb, in her first lead role, and consistently daring choices from both star and director, We Are All Going to the World’s Fair is one hell of a trip.
Casey stares directly at us as our view is essentially from her webcam. The flat tone, the piercing eyes, the declaration that she will take the challenge, all accented by the pops of blacklight color behind her, set the tone and the pace. We think something terrible is about to happen at any second as we watch her. It is a long and brilliant scene that lingers as a haunting cry for attention.
“…participants chant, ‘I Want to go to the World’s Fair’ three times, prick their finger to smear blood on their screen, then document their respective descents into madness…”
We next follow Casey as she begins to feel strange changes. While some participants have experienced varying symptoms, Casey seems to blackout and have psychotic episodes. Filming herself at night and posting the videos of her loss of control catch the attention of another player. This mysterious figure (Michael J Rogers) warns Casey that she is in grave danger.
I can honestly say that I haven’t seen a film like We Are All Going to the World’s Fair in years. One that has so perfectly captured teen angst and not in a satirical way, but in a way that reminded this grizzled old film critic what it felt like to be that age. Alone, not fitting in, having wildly outlandish perceptions of the obtuse world, and trying to find belonging. Cobb anchors the entire film with such sincerity and unfiltered nuance that we immediately connect with her and go on her journey without hesitation.
Schoenbrun’s bold direction of the film announces the unmistakable arrival of a brave talent. Chances were taken with scenes, performances, and technique that mostly pay off. It seems as if she was allowed to make mistakes and take risks, and ultimately tell a story on her terms. All that I can say is that I want more. We Are All Going to the World’s Fair is an uncomfortable, gasp-inducing window into the world of one lost soul longing to connect, and I am here for it. Ms. Schoenbrun and Ms. Cobb, keep it up!
We Are All Going to the World’s Fair screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…announces the unmistakable arrival of a brave talent."