Grimmfest: We're All Going To The World's Fair (2021)

Jane Schoenbrun

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Starring: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers

Through the lens of a webcam, writer-director Jane Schoenbrun opens their feature in a hypnotic manner. As glow-in-the-dark stars give an ethereal look to a darkened room, Casey (Anna Cobb) announces she'll be taking on the World's Fair challenge for her channel and promises to update with any changes.

World's Fair is an elaborate experience referred to as "the internet's scariest online horror game", bringing uncertainty as players record the changes they're going through. There's such a mythology to it that an entire history has been crafted and popularised through clips of old video games and web series episodes. It's easy to laugh at a viral dare like the cinnamon challenge, yet there's something unsettling to this one.

Taking part is Casey, who describes herself as a horror fan that fancied living in a scary story. Cobb wonderfully captures the character's introverted nature, keeping to herself while uneasy talking with others. There's hints at a difficult home-life, as her mother not being in the picture and a strained relationship with her father seemingly contribute to her closed-off self. As she connects with a much-older man through online chats, that understandably brings up red flags. JLB (Michael J. Cobb) appears devoted to the game, offering help and warnings to Casey after getting her attention with an unsettling video.

It makes sense that David Lowery is a producer, as the outside scenes get a good feel for location in the way Pete's Dragon accomplished so well. This is done through authentic feeling footage depicted through well-crafted single takes, as Casey records her days with a tantalising uncertainty of what's to come. As Casey's life is witnessed so effectively through digital recordings, one wishes it stuck to that instead of often breaking for reality.

It's appropriate that Paranormal Activity is namechecked, as one scene shows Casey recording herself sleeping while seemingly acting possessed. Seeing the loss of bodily control grows unsettling through sheer simplicity, and Casey's evident fear adds to that. As she appears to become disconnected from reality, viewers are left to worry about her mental state and reckon with the damage which can come from losing yourself online. Schoenbrun has crafted a coming-of-age tale for the creepypasta era, and a haunting tale about the isolation of those finding themselves in the age of the internet.

We're All Going To The World's Fair played at Grimmfest, and will be available at the virtual edition on October 16th.