Review: “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is a coming-of-age creepypasta – 71Bait

In June 2009, 20-year-old aspiring filmmaker Troy Wagner uploaded a remarkably spooky 47-second clip to YouTube. The beginning of a web series based on a story he read on the online forum Something Awful is presented as raw footage recorded by a young man before abruptly cutting off all contact with his friends. A menacing figure lurks in the background, haunting its edges. The story spans nearly a hundred short, choppy, extremely freaky videos, a Blair Witch Project for recent millennia. It became a viral sensation, racking up more than a hundred million views and becoming a crown jewel of the burgeoning genre of internet-native horror known as “creepypasta.” The haunting character — dubbed “the Slenderman” — eventually appeared in numerous creepypasta stories and even inspired a feature film released in 2015. But by that point, it had transformed from an urban legend into something else entirely. The year before, two young girls in Wisconsin were convinced that Slenderman wanted them to perform a blood sacrifice. They lured their friend into the forest and stabbed her. The real-life horror took the fun out of the RPG that was built around the internet-powered legend.

It’s difficult to see the new film We’re all going to the World’s Fair, get out now without thinking about Wagner’s videos and the Slenderman stitch. Director Jane Schoenbrun’s debut film focuses on a headstrong young girl who becomes unhealthily obsessed with internet horror stories. The protagonist, Casey (Anna Cobb, mesmerizing in her acting debut) is a teenage loner who begins recording videos of herself participating in an online role-playing game called The Movie We’re all going to the World’s Fair. The game’s exact parameters remain unclear, but we learn that players must begin by reciting her name and drawing her own blood in order to unleash some sort of supernatural power that will gradually overpower her. Casey dives in, and her videos imply that she, too, is losing control of herself as she becomes more immersed in the world’s fair world.

Just like Wagner’s web series, the videos Casey uploads have an unsettling found-footage feel to them. It feels like stepping into a particularly spooky nightmare where not much actually happens but you still wake up in a cold sweat. Casey spends most of her time in her attic bedroom, which is lit up with glow-in-the-dark space stickers and is authentically messy. When she’s not there, she’s watching a projector somewhere on her absent father’s property or wandering around their deserted town. She doesn’t appear to have any friends other than an older man (Michael Rogers) with a creepy illustration as an avatar known only as “JBL”. He watches all the videos from Casey’s World’s Fair and even instructs her to record herself as she sleeps and send him the footage. (Not exactly encouraging BFF material.) Since JBL seems to be her only confidante, Casey slips deeper and deeper into the game where she may not have a traditional community, but she does have an audience at least.

Despite all this tension and drama, We’re all going to the World’s Fair is not a fast-paced thriller. Instead, it has the rhythm of one of those video installations you might wander into in an art museum, moody and meditative and collage-like. There’s some scary stuff here too – a sequence in which the man walks Casey through a video of himself sleeping may haunt my own dreams, and there’s a brief moment of full blown body horror – but Schoenbrun won’t jump scares or gory Disgust. We’re all going to the World’s Fair falls into that slightly cursed category of movies that are far scarier (and more interesting) to contemplate than to watch. Although a little boring during its run, the film’s sinister imagery remains hard to shake days later.

The big trick Schoenbrun pulls is to get the audience to get mad at Casey. The opening, with Casey staring straight into the camera and summoning all the spirits to animate the game, isn’t so much reminiscent of other horror films as it is of the beginning of Bo Burnham’s gentle coming-of-age story Eighth class, which follows another lonely and pubescent kid who clumsily tries his hand at vlogging. But during Eighth classThe hapless protagonist, Kayla, is perfectly sincere, but something worse is going on with Casey. JBL eventually worries about her enough that he essentially orders a timeout in her game to make sure she’s okay, and her response is perhaps the film’s most chilling moment. There doesn’t have to be an actual supernatural element at play to make puberty a true terror.

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