Jane Schoenbrun invites you to play a scary game before truly terrifying you when you realize what “World’s Fair” is really about.
This is undoubtedly an odd pitch from a writer, but I hope you don’t read this review.
Instead, I hope you avoid as much as you can when it comes to We’re All Going to the World’s Fair and go in blind. This is an unforgettable ride best enjoyed when you can be surprised at every turn. Like the main character, Casey (a breathtaking performance from Anna Cobb in her feature film debut), head to the World’s Fair with curiosity and a desire to be transported — with little idea of what to expect or how it might change you.
In case you decide to heed my advice and stop reading now, let me leave with you all you really need to know. SEE THIS FILM. Need a little more? I’ve got you covered and will do my best not to spoil the experience.
So, why am I writing about a film I don’t want you to read about? Simply put, I can’t NOT write about it. Films like this are why I became a film critic. Transcendent art demands to be celebrated. It’s a film I can’t stop thinking about, and one I can’t resist talking about.
We’re first introduced to young Casey sitting in her attic-converted bedroom, awkwardly eating string cheese and hesitating before talking to her webcam. She’s preparing to take the World’s Fair Challenge, billed as the Internet’s scariest online horror game.
While Casey may be recording her exploits, she’s not your typical wannabe influencer. She’s quiet, pensive, even somber as she walks the invisible viewer through her actions. Her loneliness and apprehension are palpable in the near silent room, and she seems far more interested in being understood than adored; more interested in actual friends than followers.
Her big, expressive eyes begin to water as she nervously admits, “I don’t know what to expect” before repeating, “I want to go the World’s Fair” three times and watching a soundless video filled with strobing lights and what we can only imagine is a series of shocking and disturbing imagery. She signs off and promises to keep her viewers updated if she notices any changes.
After this hynotic opening, we’re then dumped into the heart of middle America.
There are no sweeping landscapes and breathtaking shots of pristine scenery.
It’s a real slice of life — dirty, ugly, and utterly droll. Nothing but big box stores, highways, and flat, brown nothingness for as far as the eye can see. It’s a world where nothing ever happens; nothing but loss, heartache, and disappointment; a world Casey is so eager to escape — even if it means escaping into a horror film.
Feeling afraid is preferable to feeling nothing at all.
After taking the challenge, Casey spends her time alone obsessively watching videos of other players who have documented their strange game experiences and supposed physical transformations, from losing feeling in their body to slowly turning into plastic. It’s unclear if the other gamers are simply role playing or if something supernatural is really at play.
But Casey believes it entirely, primarily because she wants to believe it.
She waits patiently for something, anything, to happen while she falls asleep to ASMR videos and fantasizes about losing control.
Then, all at once, something does happen.
An ominous and deeply unsettling message from a man named JLB flashes across her computer screen, warning her that she’s in danger and urging her to reach out.
She video chats him, worried about what his message could mean. He urges her to keep making videos, which he watches religiously – including videos of her sleeping.
We watch the views on her update videos. On a regular day, 3 views. On a good day, maybe as many as 32.
Casey is not a social media star. No one cares what she has to say — in real life or on the internet. She’s lonely, lost, and just trying to find some meaning and purpose in a world that feels far more like a horror show than anything flashing on her computer screen.
It’s unnerving and terrifying as we watch her slowly unravel, disassociate, slip further into darkness. Meanwhile, her only friend – the only other person truly present in her world – is a middle-aged man with questionable intent and an eerie fascination with a lonely teen girl.
From the moment I first plugged into World’s Fair, to the time the screen went black, I was absolutely riveted – immersed in a world of evocative curiosity, terror, and emotional weight.
The captivating Ms. Cobb filled every frame of the film and delivered a spellbinding performance that left me dazzled and devastated. She’s absolutely mesmerizing even in her quietest moments, and chilling in the most benign of scenes.
Writer/director Jane Schoenbrun demonstrates an extraordinary eye for detail and set design, making Casey’s world feel painstakingly authentic.
It’s easy to forget you’re watching actors on a screen. It feels like you’re sitting in a room with real people – people you know, understand, and care for – even as nightmarish imagery and sound design leaves you tense and disoriented.
The ambiguous ending will leave you reeling, perhaps even frustrated as Schoenbrun refuses to provide any easy answers or satisfying closure.
Instead, like life, there is only uncertainty and the pervasive fear that – whether in the virtual world we build to live out our fantasies or in our real lives – ultimately, it’s all fake.