Sundance 2021 – We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Casey (Anna Cobb) is a lonely teen who starts participating in a creepypasta-like online role-playing game called The World’s Fair. Taking the challenge is meant to cause changes in you, and Casey begins to document the ways she’s changing, posting them online for people to see amongst other submissions by people taking the challenge. Director Jane Schoenbrun’s debut is an unsettling, intimate and compelling work. It’s like stumbling upon a viral video before it gets viral. You’re just wondering what the hell this is, uncertain of where this is going but knowing you’re hooked.

Anna Cobb gives a terrific acting debut. There’s a deep loneliness in her that she shares with the camera naturally. You feel the isolation and the deep desire to connect with somebody by any means deeply felt by her. There are long, extended takes in this film and she never once loses you in how committed she is. A scene where she films herself singing and dancing is captivating in how jarring it appears. A shot of her smiling in her sleep is terrifying, you’ll know it when you see it. This film would suffer greatly without Cobb’s performance, and I look forward to where she goes next.

There are little details about Casey’s life that Schoenbrun clues us into that effectively bring us closer to the isolation of Casey. We never see her parents, we only hear her father once when he yells at her for playing a loud video at 3 in the morning. Casey is eating dinner but immediately leaves the kitchen for her room when a car pulls up, likely her father. She lives in a remote, desolate seeming small town and we never see her interact with anybody outside of a character who contacts her via skype. 

There’s a grungy look to Daniel Patrick Carbone’s cinematography, embracing the digital lo-fi look to create an unnerving aesthetic. The pixelation speaks to the dissolution of Casey’s sense of reality. Also, shouts out to David Lowery for producing this. 

It’s hard to know what to make of the ending. I admire Schoenbrun for them wanting to leave it up to us to interpret what’s happened to a certain extent, but there also seems to not necessarily be a direction she’s pointing us in. I fear that it may be too ambiguous for its own benefit, though it is a striking one regardless. Ultimately, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is unlike anything I’ve seen this year, there’s something about it that feels very honest to the experience of living your life online all the time. I look forward to seeing this film get picked up and what these creators do next.

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