Thursday, April 14, 2022

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

There is a lot of sinister history and literature surrounding world’s fairs, like Too Long at the Fair, or serial killer Henry H. Holmes. However, that potentially rich lore only gets a passing mention in this multi-player internet horror game. Nevertheless, it may (or may not) turn into a real horror story in Jane Schoenbrun’s not-quite-found-footage We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, which opens tomorrow in Brooklyn.

Casey is a lonely teen (probably in upstate New York) who is about to take the “World’s Fair” challenge. It is sort of like invoking Bloody Mary, but it serves as your initiation into the World’s Fair massive multi-player online game. However, participants often ominously report feelings of disorientation, and even body transformation after taking the challenge. Apparently, that sounds like fun to Casey.

She too experiences disturbing symptoms, as she documents on her tiny YouTube channel. However, her videos manage to attract the attention of “JLB,” a much older player, who appears to be some kind of socially introverted shut-in.

World’s Fair
could have played a lot of creepy mind-games, inviting us to question whether JLB is playing Casey or vice versa. Yet, despite billing itself as a horror film, it is really more of an examination of isolation and alienation in the online age. There is an unsettling vibe, but Schoenbrun lets the scenes play out to such a length, it undermines the tension.

World’s Fair shares similarities with The Gallows duology, but the Blumhouse produce movies just milk the online challenge gimmick for cheap jump scares. Schoenbrun’s film is of higher quality, thanks in large measure to the two primary cast-members, but it is debatable whether it delivers what it promises.

Regardless, Anna Cobb (making her screen debut) is alarmingly effective as Casey. Watching her should scare the heck out of parents struggling to manage their kids’ internet usage. Michael J. Rogers is also hard to pin down, in a good way, as JLB.

At times,
World’s Fair comes across as more of a voyeuristic viewing experience than a scary one, which can be unpleasant to sit through. Schoenbrun meticulously composed every shot and the character’s homes have a very lived-in feel. Unfortunately, it is a case of so-called “post-horror” that minimizes the horror in favor of attempts at social relevancy. It just never quite lands. Respected but not recommended, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair opens tomorrow (4/15) at BAM.