We’re All going To The World’s Fair [Sundance21]

Anna Cobb appears in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair by Jane Schoenbrun, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Daniel Patrick Carbone. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

I’ve been active on the internet for the last 15 years, minimum. After elementary school, I’d go home, go into the computer room, and log onto MSN and talk the night away. It was a routine, it was the way that I survived. At the time, I was an anxious little child – unaware of what was truly going on, even less aware of who I might end up becoming. But, I knew I felt alone. I could find myself at school not genuinely talking to many people, or not talking freely. When I spoke to the same people through a computer screen, my fingers couldn’t type fast enough to say the things I wanted to say. Unknowingly, I spent most of my time on the internet looking for communities that I could belong in. I stumbled onto an online forum for one of my favourite bands of all time, My Chemical Romance. It was called Revenge Media Network. I made friends online and from all over the world. Some of us are in a Facebook group, and we still talk some days. After that, I stumbled onto another music forum, KanyeToThe, this is where I ended up “meeting” Jonathan Goliva. We’ve stayed in touch for over a decade, I consider him a close friend, we talk often and he even designed our latest logo. I’ve been on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube – whatever new social media came out, I hopped on the bandwagon because I was always searching for someone who might understand me.

Watching We’re All Going to the World’s Fair felt like looking into a mirror. Casey (Anna Cobb in her feature debut) is surrounded by technology. Her phone, her laptop and a million places to make friends. But instead, she’s always seen by herself or talking to the camera. In a way, Casey reminds me a lot of Eighth Grade’s Kayla (Elsie Fisher) also looking for friends in the internet age. Between writing, Tumblr’s, podcasts, the one thing I never actively got into is feeling comfortable enough in front of a camera to do what Kayla and Casey do. It’s the anxiousness and low self-esteem, that keeps my profile picture as the same photo for the last few years. But I’ve written on the internet on random WordPress throwaway accounts for the last ten years, and during that time, I’ve been very open and public about who I am and what I’ve gone through. So when I see Kayla talk about her life openly (albeit not fully honestly), or Casey ready to try a random internet challenge, I understood it, because I’ve done it.

Internet challenges or fads are nothing new. Between planking, owling, the Harlem Shake, or the cinnamon challenge – they are all things that everyone got around doing it. They are all looking for a way to connect to the world outside of their own. As long as the internet has been around, there’s always been a dark side to it. The bizarre, the scary, the things that make us uncomfortable, this is where the World’s Fair challenge comes in. 

Late one night, she looks at her laptop camera and commits to the challenge, finally giving in and join this odd community. After repeating “I want to go to the world’s fair” three times (mimicking Bloody Mary), strange things start to begin. Just like those who have done the challenge before her, she chronicles and records everything that happens to her. Along the way, she meets JLB (Michael J Rogers) who does everything he can from afar to make sure she’s okay. He watches the footage and tells her when something is up. Some of the footage is super unsettling. The truth is, the film kept me on my toes, unaware of what would happen next or how much further down the rabbit hole Casey would go to find some comfort.

There’s so much more I’d want to talk about in the film, but I’ll have to wait until the film is released wide to dive in a bit more. I wasn’t sure what I was going to encounter when the film began, I expected something that might feel as if it belongs on the dark web or the eviler side of Reddit. Instead, I was given Eighth Grade meets creepypastas. Which frankly, is entirely my brand. As someone who had trouble making friends as a teenager, I always understood the anxiety that Kayla showcases, but in World’s Fair with Casey, we’re looking at those same anxieties but through the lens of the internet age. When we (referring to myself and Casey) have trouble connecting to another person and being seen, we would look anywhere and everywhere on the internet for a place to be seen.

Even with so many ways to make friends and connect to other people on the internet, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair understands how sometimes how lonely it also can be online. Especially when you see other people finding their own circles of friends and you’re always on the outside, looking in. Jane Schoenbrun delivered a film that spoke so honestly about internet culture and shown us a mirror. And that’s the thing we’re are all really looking for, finding a place and some people to see us. Over my time on the internet, I have found many places and many people who do see me, I’m hoping someone someday also sees Casey.