CFF Review: Jane Schoenbrun’s ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’
A mesmerizingly unique vision brought to life by a cleverly ambiguous execution and a stellar debut performance from Anna Cobb, Jane Schoenbrun’s “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is a film that’ll be referenced and dissected for years to come. Rightfully so as there’s so many layers to this narrative, which is presented in a way where you’re never entirely certain as a viewer if these layers are truthful or not; a strikingly powerful metaphor for the modern age of living behind screens, where it’s just as easy to troll strangers online as it is to be genuine.
This is a metaphor that the film explores and unravels throughout, while providing a quite literal window into the lives of both characters via their interactions with one another and the videos they post online. The movie opens with a lonely, introverted teen named Casey (played by Anna Cobb) who has found a sense of community in a small online ARG-esque game called “The World’s Fair Challenge” which tasks players with reciting the words “I want to go to The World’s Fair” five times before pricking their fingers, smearing a streak of blood across their computer monitor, and watching a bizarre, cryptic video online. After which they’re supposed to post follow-up videos “documenting” their spiritual (and sometimes physical) anomalies resulting from the game, which is where the film really takes off. It’d be doing you a disservice as a viewer to go too much deeper into the plot, though Casey does soon meet a mysterious player named “JLB” (played by Michael J. Rogers) who appears to know far more about the game than she does, and who will become a major component in the rest of the story.
The film is shot with a mixture of webcam footage, screen recordings, and traditional third-person camera work that creates a hybrid of sorts between standard cinematography and found-footage making for a highly refreshing presentation. There’s only two named characters in the entire feature, both of whom deliver astoundingly convincing performances that when combined with the way the it’s presented make it feel like you’re watching real people’s lives play out. There’s such a flurry of feelings pulsating through you as try and decipher what’s actually happening alongside the characters, that’s further accentuated by the surrealist, lo-fi score Alex G composed for the film. It always kicks in at the perfect time too, allowing the music to really empower how you feel about what you’ve just witnessed.
All of these elements come together to form a disturbingly cerebral, emotionally charged, and highly relatable film that reflects the digital age we live in with haunting accuracy. Regardless of how you may interpret the events depicted here you’re bound to be thinking about it days after you watched it, which speaks volumes to the depth of the story Jane has crafted.
P.S. – You’re going to need to watch this more than once to fully appreciate everything it has to offer, and I highly suggest you also give this Q&A a listen after watching. It provides some astounding and inspiring insight that’ll surely increase your appreciation of the film!