Combustible Celluloid
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With: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers, Holly Anne Frink
Written by: Jane Schoenbrun
Directed by: Jane Schoenbrun
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 86
Date: 04/15/2022

We're All Going to the World's Fair (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Fair' Game

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Non-binary filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun's feature directing debut We're All Going to the World's Fair is a haunting, deeply affecting blend of experimental horror and coming-of-age, un-ironically exploring connection in an online world.

Teen Casey (Anna Cobb) announces on her social media channel that she's going to take the "World's Fair Challenge," an online horror game. In her attic bedroom decorated with glow-in-the-dark stars, she speaks the phrase "I want to go to the World's Fair" three times, pricks her finger, and watches a flashing video.

She watches other videos of people that have taken the challenge and appear to be suffering strange side-effects. She makes more videos, trying to decipher how she feels, and to uncover whether anything is happening to her.

Then she receives a strange message from someone called JLB (Michael J. Rogers), who claims to see something special in her and encourages her to make more videos. But who is JLB, and what is really happening to Casey?

While many movies about the internet and social media tend to range from satires and dark comedies to thrillers, We're All Going to the World's Fair is more interior, more in tune with human emotional suffering.

It definitely has an insider's knowledge of the online community, and the various videos Casey watches ring eerily true, even as they're artistically fascinating and often genuinely creepy. A video of a whispering woman urging a viewer to "go back to bed" after a nightmare may have been intended to soothe, but it's really quite unsettling.

However, it's the humans in the movie — only two of them appear onscreen, not counting the content creators in the viewed videos — that set the real tone. The man, JLB, occupies an enormous space — the camera follows him as he paces a palatial home — but still crumples from loneliness in front of his computer screen.

Casey's safe space is brilliantly designed, both childlike and grown-up, clean and cluttered, vast and constricting, and she never seems to fit, either physically or spiritually.

Casey is always alone onscreen, and newcomer Cobb gives a bold, vulnerable, and deeply committed performance as the sad teen who likes horror and isn't comfortable speaking to others. (Witness the moment in which she dances and sings a homemade song called "Love in Winter," and pauses during the bridge to let out a soul-shattering primal scream.)

Yet perhaps the real success of We're All Going to the World's Fair lies in its title. It's not just JLB and Casey battling their demons... it's all of us.

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