A delirious trip into the culture of the terminally online, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair precisely replicates the experience of falling down a YouTube rabbit hole. Told primarily through a series of clips, some created for the picture and some pre-existing, they combine into a meta-narrative about the adolescent online experience.

The film opens with disconnected teen Casey (Anna Cobb) creating a YouTube channel and filming herself as she undertakes the ‘World’s Fair Challenge’, a trend buoyed by moral panic and spread through videos that show people undergoing horrific transformations. Her increasingly erratic videos catch the attention of JLB, a shadowy figure equally creepy and concerned, who worms his way closer and closer to Casey.

The viewer’s relationship with Casey mirrors JLB’s: somewhere between parental and predatory. Often we are invited in by Casey through her own videos, but there are moments where we find ourselves watching her from afar; she’s sometimes vulnerable and, crucially, always alone. This develops into a forbidden parasocial relationship that casts an ominous shadow over the film.

The film weaves this differing voyeurism with body horror, breathy ASMR and off-the-wall performances to create a sense of nausea which, when combined with our questionable bond with Casey, permeates We’re All Going to the World’s Fair with an icky-sticky feeling that transcends the manipulation and grooming at the heart of the narrative. This sense of unease is both repellent and deeply relatable; it’s exactly the malaise that comes with the spaced-out mantra of ‘just one more video and then sleep’ and then letting the algorithm drive.

Director Jane Schoenbrun effectively captures the horrors of the online experience beyond lurkers like JLB, how the version of yourself you share online contrasts with the perceptions of others, and the phantom limb feeling when someone just disappears from your life. There is reassurance in discovering that these experiences are not yours alone — Casey might call it “feeling seen”. And, while the direction across a short 86-minute run time feels scant, it’s carefully curated; a light-touch approach lends authenticity to Casey’s videos. Cobb gives an invigorating performance, delivering a tour of all of the emotions we feel about those we see online: pity, jealousy, revulsion, triumph.

While the film’s lethargic pace may alienate some viewers and those uncomfortable with introspective disquiet should probably steer clear, anyone who has ever pushed their bleary eyes through countless nights in the glare of the screen will find a strange sense of empathy and solace here. Whether you spend the film trying to decide whether Casey’s faking it, or just find yourself transfixed by Cobb’s performance, there’s a captivating balance between horror and nostalgia that those who came of age on the Internet will appreciate. 

Anna Cobb
Michael J Rogers
Holly Anne Frink

Jane Schoenbrun

Jane Schoenbrun

29 April 2022

9 May 2022

Posted by Jamie Carruthers

Jamie is a writer, critic, and all-round genre fan who lives in Liverpool with his two cats, Lucifer and Goblin.