Festival circuit darling releases wide and explores the world of Internet “challenges” in the face of mental health and the changing world
Horrifying imagery, real life mental health concerns, and phenomenon of Internet social media “challenges” collide in Jane Schoenbrun’s narrative feature debut as a director, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. Having previously worked in narrative shorts and feature length documentary film, Schoenbrun was known to me primarily for her involvement with The Eyeslicer, an ongoing collection of short films presented as an anthological series that I’ve had the pleasure to experience due to my involvement with Atlanta’s Buried Alive Film Festival. As a feature programmer and publicity director of the festival, I always loved the curation and production that went into The Eyeslicer’s programs and was very excited to be introduced to them through the festival’s directors and founders who worked closely with Schoenbrun and the rest of the Eyeslicer team.
Thus, I was very excited to see Schoenbrun’s directorial feature debut making festival rounds and was lucky enough to catch it as part of Chattanooga’s 2021 Virtual lineup. Sadly, I watched it towards the end of the screening window and fell asleep (not a reflection on the film, just on me being an old dude who falls asleep when he starts movies late at night) so I missed some of the end and hadn’t gotten to rewatch it in time. Naturally, as soon as the film was available via wide release, I dove back in.
Out now on all major streaming platforms, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is inspired by Creepypasta and the trend of Internet “challenges” —such as ice bucket challenges, TikTok dance challenges, and the infamous Tide Pod challenge. As the Internet and technology have always been a big part of Schoenbrun’s work, it is easy to recognize that she was clearly interested in exploring on screen what its like for a teen obsessed with horror growing up in this particular day and age. This, of course, is exactly what she is doing with this film.
The particular Internet challenge that the film’s lead, Casey (Anna Cobb), is taking is called the World’s Fair Challenge. After taking the plunge and doing the challenge’s initiation, she begins to document her journey via videos she shares on the Internet. What exactly is real, what she’s making up, and what is perhaps just in her head is not exactly clear… which makes the journey more intense and all the more effective. She begins to be followed online by a man who goes by the screenname JLB (Michael J Rogers). JLB’s intent isn’t clear from the start, but we begin to understand as time goes on that he’s genuinely concerned for Casey’s well-being and not just “playing along”. While strangers can be very dangerous, this film also causes us to think on the “kindness of strangers” and the nature of “friendship” in the Internet age.
While there are genuinely scary images in this film and scares both in concept and execution, Schoenbrun never takes the easy route to simply create jump scares or try to shock the viewer. Instead, we’re subjected to truly introspective and thought-provoking decisions in where the film goes. In fact, many hardcore horror fans may even be disappointed by the non-horror types of decisions made in moments of this film. However, these filmmaking decisions made by Schoenbrun — both as the director and as the writer — are what set this film apart as being a truly engaging and mature coming-of-age genre picture rather than a forgettable horror flick.
Using the “screen life” modality that is used in much modern “found footage” film, combined with more traditional narrative film camera work, the film really finds a unique voice that tells the story in the best possible way, rather than being married to a single format. This decision is another example of Schoenbrun’s maturity as a modern filmmaker.
In short, this is a film worth a watch for many reasons. As a parent, it provides insight into what it may be like for adolescents growing up in this particular social media age and the unique challenges it brings for kids and their mental health. As a fellow teenage, it provides a realistic look into some of the troubles and issues facing peers, also showing that you’re not alone. As a genre film fan, it is a unique and mature work that is both an entrancing watch and a promising start for a young filmmaking voice who is sure to cause some real waves in the not-so-distant future.
In other words, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is one of 2022’s latest offerings that deserves to be on the radar of genre film fans all over the globe. It’s a strong and worthwhile watch and is available now on your favorite streaming platforms.