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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’ Never Quite Reaches Its Destination

"We're All Going to the World's Fair"

Online gaming is a community all its own. We’ve long seen how addicted folks can get, and the debate is nothing new about whether it’s a bad thing or just a new way of bonding. The question is somewhat tackled in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, a movie that teases with its potential. Playing at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, it has moments that suggest something truly creepy, as well as dramatically compelling. At the same time, it can’t tie them together into a depiction that satisfies in any real meaningful way. It comes up short, but you walk out (virtually) curious what everyone involved will do next.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is the first draft of a great film. The flick shows you where it wants to go, but unfortunately never can quite reach that destination. The unsettling bits are the most successful, but they’re too few and far between to work. In specifically avoiding too many of those, the movie inadvertently develops a fatal flaw.

Alone in her attic bedroom, teenager Casey (Anna Cobb) is on her computer. The lights are out, and she’s clearly contemplating something important. It soon becomes clear that she’s about to immerse in an online role-playing horror game, one called the World’s Fair Challenge. Once Casey signs up, she begins to document the changes that may or may not be happening to her, which others are already doing on the internet. Is this just a game, or something more sinister?

As things progress, Casey is sought out by a mystery man (Michael J. Rogers), claiming that he sees something special in her. While she speaks with him, she goes through more changes. If they’re real, what could happen next? If they’re not, what could be affecting her in this way? The answers, sadly, will underwhelm.

Actress Anna Cobb is the one aspect here that’s an unquestionable success. She’s hypnotic in a role that asks her to be on screen for nearly all of the running time. It’s up to her to sell what’s going on, and while the screenplay can’t do that, she very nearly can. Cobb is someone to watch out for going forward, that’s for sure.

Filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun has an art-house vibe that holds tons of potential, but they’re not there yet. In trying to keep things from being anything like an indie version of a horror franchise, there’s something missing. Again, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair just feels like the first draft of something better. If it could come back to Sundance next year in another form, I’m almost positive it would be far superior. Schoenbrun has the talent and personal touch to make something very special. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite it.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair may well prove more compelling for some, but for yours truly, it underwhelmed. This is the sort of Sundance title that draws you in with its premise, but the execution doesn’t quite stack up. The idea holds water, whereas the movie can not.

SCORE: ★★1/2


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Written by Joey Magidson

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