For most of We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the only person in sight is Casey (Anna Cobb), a lonely and anxiety-ridden teenager. She seeks connection through the World’s Fair Challenge, a creepypasta offshoot billing itself as the world’s scariest online horror game. All one has to do to join is prick their finger, watch a series of flashing images, then report the “symptoms” that allegedly manifest after the video. There’s no goal per se, except for sharing one’s videos with others and trying to uncover the game’s many secrets.
Lonely and impressionable, Casey is a perfect candidate for the game. She quickly becomes obsessed with its endless web of creepy videos and fan theories, and begins posting videos of her own “symptoms” online. But is the World’s Fair Challenge an elaborate hoax, an engine of mass psychosis, or something truly evil? The answer may lie with JLB (Michael J. Rogers), a mysterious fellow player who offers to help Casey navigate the game. Though he hides his face behind an avatar, he’s clearly an adult, and we’re meant to be suspicious.
To its credit, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair feels authentic to the online subculture it portrays, dodging most of the cringeworthy pitfalls so common to movies about the internet. The game and its accompanying content all feel real enough, and integration of Casey’s story with videos and content from other players effectively replicates the feeling of plunging down an internet rabbit hole. But this realism comes at a price, leaving the movie peppered with scenes that are both short on scares and unconnected to the main plot.
The movie’s one unconditional success is newcomer Cobb, who gives an unselfconscious and naturalistic performance; her glassy eyes and slightly-fried voice sell the eeriness of her situation even when the direction doesn’t. Casey’s portrayal also brings about the movie’s most canny filmmaking choices: we never see her physically interact with another human being, and the only proof of her father’s existence is a stern voice coming from below her attic bedroom. These details create a powerful sense of isolation, one that’s depressingly accurate to a certain subset of internet users.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is let down by detours into internet navel-gazing and an overly tidy ending; but there are glimmers of greatness in its best moments, which give insightful peeks into a uniquely Gen-Z form of adolescent loneliness. One standout scene shows Casey falling asleep to a video of a motherly young woman soothingly whispering to the camera that the nightmare is over, and it’s OK to go to back to sleep now. The fact that there’s a demand for such content is more disturbing than any online horror game.