Internet

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair review: Horror for internet junkies

The internet takes on a different texture once everyone around you has fallen asleep. The world behind the screen expands as the outside world contracts, becoming a portal to another place. It’s Alice’s Looking-Glass through YouTube links. At odd hours, people’s attention is more easily drawn to unknown corners of the Internet, where it is possible to commune, even indirectly, with others who are also drawn to them.

In the spellbinding Jane Schoenbrun We’re all going to the world’s fair, lonely teenager Casey (Anna Cobb) spends her time deep in one of these recesses. After a long period of watching videos of others posting about the World’s Fair, an internet urban legend wrapped around a secret rite of passage, she decides to join on her own. As the film begins, she sits in her attic bedroom late at night, lit by the glow of her laptop screen. She follows each step of the ritual: she pricks her finger, smears the blood on the screen, shows a video and sings “I want to go to the Universal Exhibition” three times. Then her journey begins – a journey that she naturally documents online, as part of the process of telling a collective story.

According to legend, once someone participates in the World’s Fair Challenge, as it is called, they begin to change in unpredictable and indefinite ways. Something from their deepest fears and nightmares will become literal. The ritual is just the beginning of the game: participants are expected to keep posting videos, documenting the changes taking place. Eventually, something horrifying might happen. A man becomes an evil clown. Another finds a strange growth on his arm. Casey wonders what could happen to her.

The majority of World Exhibition follows Casey as she makes and watches videos on her descent down this creepypasta rabbit hole. It’s a very lonely movie – Casey doesn’t talk to another person in real life, and she never shares the frame with anyone. While most of the film takes place from the perspective of the webcams, it occasionally pulls back to show how empty the actual spaces of the film are. Casey’s attic bedroom recedes into the background, a claustrophobic, endless maw. Suburban decadence marks its surroundings, with abandoned department stores and sparse dead trees dotting a gray landscape. One time we hear someone – presumably a relative – yelling at Casey to turn the volume down. It’s the only time someone talks to him offline.

Genre Internet Horror We’re all going to the world’s fair explore is connection-based. People who live their lives online are acutely aware of so many other people, so many other lives. The youthful longing for “Is that all there is?” suddenly has a concrete answer: no, it’s not. There are many more. At first, this discovery is exciting: there is such to the internet, so many people and ideas, all better or more interesting than the ones you would otherwise spend your life around. It can also be terrifying, if you stop to think that maybe it’s possible to see too much.

As Casey posts her videos and lets the algorithm drag her deeper into the World’s Fair community, someone by the name of JLB (Michael L. Rogers) contacts her. JLB is a vlogger who doesn’t show his face – every time he posts he has an alternate illustration of a ghoul with a smirk. He reaches out to people who take on the World’s Fair challenge, with the understanding that his interests and conversation are strictly “in-game” – his modus operandi is to take the World’s Fair challenge very seriously, without never break character, hoping that he and the people he talks to “fear together”.

JLB appreciates Casey’s approach to the challenge of the World’s Fair, as his videos take on the horror of creepypasta truth. They are simple, no-frills recordings of normal behavior, quietly interrupted by something upsetting. Maybe there’s a supernatural element at play, or maybe all the participants are simply acting out, in order to feel part of a community, or maybe to live out their own fantasies of change. In his first performance, Cobb blurs reality so easily that it becomes impossible to tell in which direction. World Exhibition will land. Is she really dissociating and having out-of-body experiences, or is she getting upset and using the World’s Fair to explain her feelings of depression or dysphoria? Is she really a sleepwalker or does she give a performance for the few dozen people who watch her videos? Something is haunting her or is she growing?

Image: Utopia

In the wee hours of the morning, when consciousness and sleep clash in the minds of those lost in the endless scroll, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between role-playing and true horror. The only consistent anchor is the familiar circular arrows of the internet refreshing, automatically loading another video for Casey to watch. Her aimless loading and scrolling fades with her aimless wandering around her hometown, and the more she plays the game online, the harder it becomes to tell how calculated her behavior is, whether she knows which parts of the world. story are real and which are not. , or if she ever did.

We’re all going to the world’s fair is a work of algorithmic horror, presenting a world – our world – where young people are trying to figure out who they are while machines are also watching them, trying to figure them out even faster. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm doesn’t discriminate between sincerity and irony, between propaganda and satire pushing the boundaries for varying tastes. It’s just interested in keeping people watching. There is always another video ready to go. The algorithm is hard-coded to assume that no one will ever find what they are looking for.

That’s the real horror of trying to figure out who you are by being online. The hope of the internet is that everyone can find a community, that the weirdness of activities such as anonymous work to scare each other online can create a safe and creative place. Schoenbrun suggests that within this range of collective expression, people can decide who and what they want to be. We’re all going to the world’s fair isn’t just a movie about connection, it’s about becoming. It’s a powerful acknowledgment of how disconcerting and frightening young adulthood can be. But it is also a film about hope. There’s a name for the specific kind of alienation and confusion his characters feel. Perhaps, it suggests, people like Casey will come up with that name, despite the machine’s best efforts.

We’re all going to the world’s fair is now playing in theaters, and gets to AppleVudu and other digital services on April 22.