DIRECTOR: Jane Schoenbrun

CAST: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers, Holly Anne Frink

RUNNING TIME: 86 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A teen (Cobb) becomes consumed with an online role-playing horror game…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

As basically the online equivalent of spooky campfire stories, “creepypasta” has yet to truly branch into mainstream horror cinema; the closest it’s come so far is 2018’s Slender Man, which turned out to be so bad that it seems to have prevented anyone else from adapting popular creepypasta lore into narrative film. Thankfully, filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun’s lo-fi feature We’re All Going To The World’s Fair opts for a much more atmospheric and less nonsensical tone, which makes it far creepier to watch as a result, although many horror fans may find themselves coming up short in the actual scares department.

Our protagonist is Casey (Anna Cobb), a teen with no apparent social life, nor apparently a loving, supportive family around her house – the only relative whose existence is ever acknowledged is her (entirely off-screen) father, who sends the teenager upstairs to finish her dinner in silence when she sees his headlights returning home – who we first meet as she is about to record herself partaking in the “World’s Fair Challenge”. This strange online phenomenon involves chanting the phrase “I want to go to the world’s fair” three times, pricking a finger and wiping the computer screen with blood, and staring mesmerized at a short video that contains so many flashes it could send an epileptic to the hospital. The next part of the challenge is to record oneself over the following days to document the psychological changes that come from taking on the challenge, which Casey all too willingly does as she films herself whilst asleep, walking around her town, and even dancing in her room – with the dark and disturbing effects becoming more and more apparent as the days go by.

The movie is very much a slow-burn, with Schoenbrun paying more attention to the eerie atmosphere that surrounds her isolated main character, through long shots which capture the teenager in a number of unsettling positions either whilst outside or messing around in her attic bedroom. Slowly, but surely, the filmmaker piles on the atmospheric creepiness which substitutes for traditional scares in the foreground, creating a chilling environment where anything even remotely sinister could happen at any moment, but it says a lot about Schoenbrun’s restraint that she does not let her film fall into the obvious traps of cheap jump-scares and loud musical stingers. She just lets her story play out for as long as it needs to, with the horror element certainly there but almost never taken advantage of, which admittedly might turn off viewers hoping for more traditional horror elements, but still adds a chilling atmosphere that is hard to ignore, especially on the limited budget that the filmmaker is clearly working with.

Part of the uncertain creepiness comes from the introduction of another on-screen main character (there are only two of such throughout the entre film, not counting those we see in online clips throughout): Michael J. Rogers plays JLB, a much older man and fellow World’s Fair fanatic who contacts teen Casey when he expresses concern for her well-being, and right away there is no telling whether or not to trust this man. In most other scenarios, this guy would turn out to be an online predator, and there would be good reason to come to that conclusion – during their Skype sessions, his video is intentionally turned off, with his heavy breathing clogging up his microphone – but we frequently cut to his own life which, despite the nicer and larger house, is just as lonely and desperate for connection as our main teen protagonist’s life is. There are themes of isolation and disconnection throughout We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, but even still we are never entirely aware of JLB’s full intentions until closer toward the end, so until then the viewer is on edge with this guy who certainly displays signs of obsessiveness, no matter how noble the intentions.

Beside Casey and JLB, the only other humans we see throughout are the people who inhabit the video clips that play at regular intervals, which work to expand on the phenomena and cultural impact of the titular challenge in some interesting, expectation-defying ways. Ranging from surreal music videos to a trope-heavy horror web series to even an 8-bit video game reconstruction, Schoenbrun makes her own piece of creepypasta lore feel just as real and fleshed-out as other such legends like Slender Man, all within the short running time that she has set for her own feature. It’s a well thought-out piece, one which definitely holds back on going too far into traditional horror movie conventions – something which, again, may put off a lot of audience members – but retains a chilling atmosphere that is impressively handled in all its lo-fi and pixelated glory.

SO, TO SUM UP…

We’re All Going To The World’s Fair has the potential to alienate traditional horror movie viewers with its slow pacing and lack of many authentic scares, but the creepy atmosphere and well thought-out lore expansion that filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun gifts to her film, as well as an impressive debut lead turn by young Anna Cobb, makes this a reasonably chilling attempt at big-screen creepypasta.

We’re All Going To The World’s Fair is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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