Before anyone asks: no, this is not a spiritual musical successor to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical State Fair, so don’t get your hopes up like I did.
The internet — a beacon of hope and knowledge in modern human society, where information is endless, truth is valued, people are stable, and nothing is scary at all. It’s never been a problem and never will be, so something like We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is absolutely far-fetched and not based in any semblance of reality…right? Okay…so maybe the information superhighway could use some work (at the time of writing, Elon Musk just made a bid to buy Twitter for $54.20 a share, if we needed some hard proof), but it can’t be all bad. There have to be some success stories out there about people’s positive experiences with the internet, right?
Yeah…not here…not today…not at the World’s Fair.
Casey (Anna Cobb) is a lonely teenager who spends her days perusing message boards and YouTube channels pertaining to internet horror, or “Creepypastas,” known casually. Wanting to become more involved, Casey takes the “World’s Fair Challenge,” an online role-playing game made popular by other creators promising strange, spooky goings on once one partakes. While subtle at first, the more Casey digs into the effects of the World’s Fair Challenge online, she begins to find her connection to reality crumbling as she experiences the effects of the occult ritual herself…or does she?
Playing out as a hybrid between a conventional film and that of an Unfriended/Searching style Screenlife film made popular by Timur Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs production company, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (not produced by Bekmambetov, though executive produced by The Green Knight director David Lowery) is perhaps the most grounded, yet disturbing of these types of films to date. Balancing the two filmmaking styles out helps keep what happens on camera feeling far more realistic and less constrained by the limitations of the format.
What I like the most about We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is the film’s very delicate balancing act of both providing an unsettling horror experience while never taking away the idea at the back of your mind that every single person in this film is full of absolute shit. It almost becomes more of an indictment of the culture of toxic internet role-playing preying on lonely, impressionable youths more than any demons or ghosts that are supposedly beginning to terrorize Casey. It brings me back to a time in my life where I believed all I was told on Tumblr simply because there was a “sense” of authority to the voices I took in, not by any actual proof or credibility. That dark sense of nostalgia admittedly shook me quite a bit watching Casey look for a community to listen to her, even by putting herself through hell for it.
While I certainly appreciate a film that takes literally no time getting to the meat of it all, because the film (only 86 minutes with credits, by the way) plunges us into the thick of it so early on, there is a good chunk that feels relatively hollow and uneventful. We observe the beginning signs of disturbing behavior on Casey’s part, we see the world she has immersed herself in via YouTube videos and conversations with JLB (Michael J. Rogers), the inventor of the World’s Fair Challenge, but it simply meanders about until its admittedly disquieting final act comes around; but by that point, it’s hard to completely rope myself back into the film after I was somewhat lost on it by a lack of vigor leading up to the finale.
That doesn’t make what does happen any less genuinely upsetting, but a more astute sense of focus could’ve helped We’re All Going to the World’s Fair feel like a far more refined, yet entirely uncanny affair as a whole. The individual elements are very present, as Cobb is a scene-stealer (granted she’s one of the only people in the film, but I think even if she weren’t, she would steal each scene) with a doe-eyed alarm that’s disturbing to say the absolute least, and while the film is objectively unattractive, it expertly fits the chronically online aesthetic that is so isolating to both Casey and the viewer. It’s just a shame that much of the film’s runtime is focused on hollow, disturbing imagery that, while painting a picture of the world Casey is finding herself in, doesn’t do much to expound upon the bevy of avenues a film with this broad of a scope could’ve taken to make something as profound as it is unsettling.
In select theaters beginning April 15th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Utopia website.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.