Sundance Review: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is an outstanding directorial debut from Schoenbrun

Set in present day America, the film follows the story of Casey, a lonely teenager who participates in an online game known as the World’s Fair Challenge; a game that promises to be the scariest game in existence.

After starting the game, Casey records videos of herself and posts them online in order to document the effects the game may have on her. Her videos make a big impression on a mysterious viewer, who claims to see something special about her. But Casey’s sense of reality starts to blur while the mysterious viewer starts to show more than just fascination.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair was a film that I had no prior knowledge going into. The hook for me was the memorable image, which is Casey staring into the webcam of her laptop; covered in glow-in-the-dark paint while holding an eye. That picture is the perfect summary of the film itself; a visually vibrant and disturbing piece of work.

Filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun has done a fantastic job in getting the audience into the mindset of Casey, as they capture the crushing alienation through pensive pacing and long takes. The film techniques portray the distorted perception of time in a succinct and beautiful way. Thankfully, Schoenbrun never turns the film into a slog as they pepper the film with enough visual unravelling of what makes Casey tick i.e. her sing-and-dance routines, her reticence towards her father, her choice of videos she watches on the equivalent of YouTube.

Just when the audience catches up on what Schoenbrun is trying to do, they are thrown into a curveball that changes their perception on the film. The argument becomes clear and it brings thought-provoking discussion on voyeurism, anonymity, dependence on technology as a window to the world as well as the questioning of one’s sympathy towards others.

None of this would work nearly as well without the fantastic acting of Anna Cobb leading the proceedings. She conveys the vulnerability and the darkness of Casey with enigmatic aplomb; it is such a great performance. Perhaps in retrospect, it is maybe a little bit too great.

Overall, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a fantastic directorial debut from Schoenbrun; a deep and disturbing experience that illuminates the dark side of teenage alienation and humanity’s dependence on the Internet as a window to the world. It is a film that transcends storytelling form and had me on edge throughout and will linger with me for a long time; especially with its final scenes.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair has screened as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which was presented virtually between January 28th and February 3rd, 2021.  For more information head to the official Sundance page.

Harris Dang

Rotten Tomatoes-approved Film Critic. Also known as that handsome Asian guy you see in the cinema with a mask on.

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