Written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun and starring newcomer Anna Cobb, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair feels like the slow wade into a lake. It’s a gradual and intentional descent into a deep unknown, where a calm stillness coats all you see, but there’s much going on beneath the surface. It’s — at times — cold, uncomfortable, and disquieting, and each step could take you closer and closer to the edge of a deep drop.
In the film, a lonely teen named Casey (Anna Cobb) stares intently at her computer screen. She pricks her finger with a pin (though it’s more of an assault than a simple jab) and smears blood across the screen, and thus the World’s Fair challenge begins. Those who take the challenge begin to change in different ways, and as Casey awaits her own transformation, she watches videos of others demonstrating the effects of the challenge. Over the next few days, she documents her own experiences as a mysterious man reaches out to her to warn her of impending danger.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is part Creepypasta screen life and part coming-of-age tale, with measured pacing that pulls the action forward (almost reluctantly). Casey’s energy throughout the film is perfectly pitched; she’s a little awkward, with a wide-eyed innocence that communicates alienation and sadness. I hope to see more from Cobb in the future, because her performance here is mesmerizing.
With elements of body horror — both traditional and dissociative — We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is kind of like if David Cronenberg made The Ring, inspired by Eighth Grade. Those looking for big, bold, flashy bloody horror would best look elsewhere, but for a moody, calculated, unnerving exploration of the teenage experience and online despondency, you should certainly take this challenge.
For more from Fantasia Fest 2021, check out my list of the Five Films I’m Stoked to See!