We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Alone in an attic bedroom festooned with glow in the dark stars and blacklight posters, teenaged Casey (Anna Cobb) announces on her YouTube channel that she’s made the decision to join an online horror challenge which has had bizarre consequences for many in “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.”
Laura's Review: B
Writer/director Jane Schoenbrun takes a unique look at teenage isolation and adult predation by placing her protagonist within a corner of the Internet which resembles the Slender Man/creepypasta phenomenon. The film falls within the ‘computer screen’ genre yet sidesteps many of those films’ clichés by dispensing with the mechanics of online activity, having Casey record herself outdoors and by using wall projection of her laptop.
After making her announcement, Casey regroups before acting. Repeating ‘I want to go the World’s Fair’ three times, she then stabs her fingertip repeatedly with a holographic skull pin, smears blood across her laptop screen and watches a video which reflects back with a strobing effect. She then Googles for ‘World’s Fair symptoms’ and is given results like ‘I can’t feel my body’ and ‘I’m turning into plastic’ (that’s “All Light, Everywhere” documentary filmmaker Theo Anthony in the treadmill video). In a subsequent video, we learn that Casey used to sleepwalk, aware of doing so but not in control, and loves horror movies and has always wanted to know what it was like to be inside one.
We never see Casey interact with anyone directly, her single parent dad occasionally heard but not seen. She’ll visit what appears to be his outdoor workshop in the dead of night, unsettling us by checking out a nasty looking gun. We’re given wintery tours of her surroundings, woodsy areas and strip malls (‘Auto Zone’ she’ll whisper, as if casting a spell). But there is one person ‘looking out’ for her. JLB (Michael J Rogers, "Beyond the Black Rainbow," "Demonic") contacts her frequently, purportedly to see if she’s OK, worried that she may self harm, sending all capped screen messages like ‘YOU ARE IN TROUBLE’ and ‘I NEED TO TALK TO YOU.’
Most of the film is placed on the shoulders of newcomer Anna Cobb and the expressive young actress is more than up to the task. When Casey makes a video of herself sleeping, Cobb creeps us out with one simple gesture and exaggerated grin. She’ll break into an amateurish but impassioned performance of the gothic slammer ‘Love in Winter’ (written by Fredrick Cuevas and Jane Schoenbrun), then terrify us by turning on Poe, the stuffed raccoon she’s used to sleep peacefully since she was small.
Schoenbrun does a lot with seemingly little here. The film, which appears to take place from early November through the holidays, features one video of Casey walking through a Christmas lit neighborhood at night, the filmmaker adding tension with the flashing lights of unexplained police cars at the end of a road. Other gamers’ videos are disturbing, punctuated by the innocuous 1994 rendition of the World’s Fair online game and the suspended state of buffering.
I would only question the filmmaker’s decision to wrap with JLB delivering a lengthy on camera soliloquy. This was Casey’s personal journey and she deserved the last word.
Robin's Review: C+
Utopia opens “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” in select theaters on 4/15/22, wide and digitally on 4/22/22.