Review: ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,’ starring Anna Cobb and Michael J Rogers

May 3, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anna Cobb in “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (Photo courtesy of Utopia)

“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair”

Directed by Jane Schoenbrun

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. state, the supernatural drama film “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” features a predominantly an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A teenage girl participates in a mysterious online game that seems to change people who play the game. 

Culture Audience: “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a low-budget psychological thriller with good acting.

Anna Cobb in “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (Photo courtesy of Utopia)

The first thing that people should know about “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is that even though it’s advertised as a horror movie, it’s not a movie with jump scares. It’s not really a horror movie but more like a psychological drama about the effects of a mysterious online video challenge. Anna Cobb gives a compelling performance in this slow-paced movie.

“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Jane Schoenbrun. It’s not a movie like 2002’s “Fear Dot Com” or 2014’s “Unfriended,” which are horror films about people who experience terror because they logged onto a website and made contact with an evil force. “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” has some elements of that concept, but don’t expect to see serial killing in this movie.

The protagonist of “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is a teenage girl named Casey (played by Cobb), who lives in an unnamed U.S. state where it snows. (“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” was actually filmed in New York state.) Casey has her own YouTube channel and appears to be a very lonely and isolated person who mostly interacts with people online. She is not shown interacting with anyone in person.

“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” has a very small number of people in the movie’s cast: Only four or five people actually speak on screen. And none of them is ever in the same room as Casey, whose bedroom is in the attic of the house where she lives. The movie takes place during the winter season, because there is snow on the ground where Casey lives, which is in a remote wooded area.

Casey’s family life is vague. Viewers of “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” will find out that Casey lives with her father, who is never seen in the movie. He is only heard yelling at her once, late at night when she is playing something too loudly on her laptop computer. Casey’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the film. If Casey has any relatives, they aren’t mentioned either.

“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” begins by showing Casey doing a livestream for her YouTube channel, where she announces a little nervously to her audience that she’s going to take the World’s Fair Challenge. She logs onto an unseen website and says three times in a row: “I want to go to the World’s Fair.”

Then, she takes a pin button with a drawing of a skull and pricks the index finger on her left hand until a small amount of blood comes out. She smears the blood on the computer screen and plays a video that cannot be seen by viewers watching the movie. However, pulsating noises can be heard from the video that is being played.

The rest of “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” consists of Casey becoming aware that many things about her are changing. Is it real or all in her imagination? That’s for viewers of the movie to decide. However, Casey sees videos on the Internet that show other people who took the World’s Fair Challenge have had things happen to them too.

“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is a “mood movie” that doesn’t have much of a plot but is very effective at creating a certain atmosphere and getting people curious about what will happen next. There’s one scene in the movie that can definitely be considered something from a traditional horror movie, but this scene comes and goes with no further explanation.

Casey has an ardent YouTube subscriber named JLB (played by Michael J Rogers), a middle-aged man who can be described as an obsessive fan of Casey. JLB (who uses a skull illustration as his online avatar) frequently checks in on Casey and expects her to communicate with him. JLB becomes increasingly worried about Casey when he notices changes in her.

Just like Casey, JLB also appears to be a lonely and isolated person, even though he doesn’t live alone either. There’s a scene in “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” where a woman is briefly seen in the background of JLB’s home. It’s implied that this woman is JLB’s wife or live-in partner, but he never mentions her, and she is not shown speaking to him.

“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” is a portrait of a slow descent into madness. It’s not the type of movie that will be enjoyed by viewers who are expecting a lot of action. But this very low-budget film has some striking visuals and a creepy tone that might be enough to unsettle some viewers, which seems to be the main intention.

Utopia released “We’re All Going the World’s Fair” in select U.S. cinemas on April 15, 2024. The movie was released on digital and VOD on April 22, 2024. “We’re All Going the World’s Fair” is available for streaming on Max.

Review: ‘I Saw the TV Glow,’ starring Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst and Danielle Deadwyler

May 3, 2024

by Carla Hay

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in “I Saw the TV Glow” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“I Saw the TV Glow”

Directed by Jane Schoenbrun

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1996 to 2004, in an unnamed U.S. state, the dramatic film “I Saw the TV Glow” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A lonely teenage boy befriends a teenage girl, who gets him hooked on a fantasy TV series starring young people battling a villain named Mr. Melancholy, and the show affects what happens to them as they get older. 

Culture Audience: “I Saw the TV Glow” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and are interested in watching symbolic-heavy movies about depression and queerness.

Ian Foreman in “I Saw the TV Glow” (Photo by Spencer Pazer/A24)

“I Saw the TV Glow” isn’t as scary as it seems, but it’s a very original film about obsessive escapism and denial of one’s true identity. The plot has more mystery than suspense. Viewers must be willing to interpret the movie’s LGBTQ symbolism. “I Saw the TV Glow” had its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and later screened at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival and 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival.

Written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun, “I Saw the TV Glow” explores themes about depression and queerness that are presented in ways that might be too abstract for viewers. “I Saw the TV Glow” has been described as a horror movie, but it’s really a psychological drama. There are a few brief horror-like images, in addition to one scene where someone has a mental breakdown. That does not make it a horror movie.

“I Saw the TV Glow,” which is told in chronological order, takes place from 1996 to 2004, in an unnamed U.S. state. (The movie was actually filmed in New Jersey.) “I Saw the TV Glow” begins by showing clips from a U.S. TV network called the Young Adult Network, which has a combination of original and acquired programming. One of the network’s more popular original shows is a weekly fantasy series called “The Pink Opaque,” which is set in America in whatever year that the show is on the air. “I Saw the TV Glow” pokes some fun at 1990s television, music and fashion in clips of “The Pink Opaque.”

It’s later explained in the movie that “The Pink Opaque” (and the show’s title characters) are two American teenage best friends named Isabel (played by Helena Howard) and Tara (played by Lindsey Jordan), who live in a typical suburban area but live secret lives where they battle a demonic force called Mr. Melancholy (played by Emma Portner), the show’s chief villain who gives Isabel and Tara an obstacle in each episode. Isabel is the more prominent person of this teenage duo. She is described as an “expert in demonology.”

In “I Saw the TV Glow,” the protagonist and narrator is shy and quiet Owen (played by Justice Smith), who narrates the movie in hindsight as an older teenager and as an adult. Sometimes, he talks directly to the camera during his narration. Sometimes, Owen’s narration is a voiceover. The movie also has captions spelled out in handwritten pink letters.

When Owen is first seen in the movie, he is a seventh grader (about 12 or 13 years old) and played by Ian Foreman. It’s during this period of time that Owen meets someone who will change his life. Seventh grader Owen is shown accompanying his mother Brenda (played by Danielle Deadwyler) to a polling place on Election Day. The polling station is in a gym of a local high school where Owen will be a student in two years. Brenda takes Owen into the voting booth with her and shows him how to vote.

It’s at this gym where Owen meets sarcastic Maddie Wilson (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine), who is a ninth grader (freshman), about 14 years old, at the high school. Maddie is sitting on the gym floor, reading a book about episodes of “The Pink Opaque.” Owen soon finds out that Maddie is an obsessive fan of “The Pink Opaque,” which airs on Tuesdays from 10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the time zone where Maddie and Owen live.

Owen and Maddie start talking about “The Pink Opaque,” a show that Owen has not seen at this point because he’s not allowed to stay up past 10 p.m., especially on a school night. Owen (who is an only child) lives with his married parents in a stable, loving and middle-class home. His father Frank (played by Fred Durst) is not as close to Owen as Brenda is.

Maddie tells Owen that she and her best friend Amanda (also played by Portner) watch “The Pink Opaque” together at Maddie’s place. Maddie invites Owen to join them and suggests that Owen lie to his parents by saying he’s spending the night at a male friend’s house. Owen takes that advice and sneaks over to Maddie’s place to watch “The Pink Opaque” for the first time (in a basement room), as Maddie explains the complex world building that the show has. Maddie later tells Owen, “Sometimes, ‘The Pink Opaque’ feels more real than real life.”

Maddie’s parents are never shown in the movie. However, Maddie mentions that her parents “don’t give a crap” when she goes to bed. She also says that she has an abusive stepfather. When Owen spends the night at Maddie’s place for the first time, he has to sleep in the basement. Maddie tells Owen that Owen has to leave by dawn because if Maddie’s stepfather sees Owen there, “he’ll break my nose again.”

After Amanda has left for the night, Maddie also tells Owen that Maddie thinks Isabel from “The Pink Opaque” is “super-hot,” and Maddie “likes girls.” Owen doesn’t have any reaction to Maddie telling him that she’s a lesbian, but he does get confused when she asks him if he likes boys or girls. He tells her he doesn’t know but he knows he likes “The Pink Opaque.” When Owen is a teenager, he mentions “The Pink Opaque” to his father Frank, who replies, “Isn’t that a girl’s show?”

Owen explains in a voiceover that over the next two years, Maddie gave VHS tapes of “The Pink Opaque” episodes to Owen so he could watch the show without having to stay up past his bedtime. However, Owen and Maddie don’t become close friends until 1998, when Owen (played by Smith) is a freshman (about 14 years old) in the same high school where Maddie is now a junior (about 16 years old) and is now a loner at the school.

Maddie and Owen reconnect at her place to watch “The Pink Opaque” together. It’s during this reconnection that Owen finds out that Maddie and Amanda stopped being friends about two years earlier because Amanda told people that Maddie touched Amanda’s breast without Amanda’s consent. Maddie denies this sexual harassment happened but she was then shunned by many people because Maddie was “outed” as a lesbian. Maddie is still bitter over how the friendship ended and also seems angry that Amanda would rather spend time on the cheerleader squad than watch “The Pink Opaque.”

The rest of “I Saw the TV Glow” is about how Owen’s friendship with Maddie and how their fixation with “The Pink Opaque” affects their lives. Without giving away too much information, the movie is full of metaphors and symbolism of Owen’s self-discovery of his sexuality, even though he is not shown dating anyone in the movie. There’s a scene early on in the film of seventh grader Owen in an inflatable planetarium that has colors reminiscent of the LGBTQ Pride flag.

“I Can See the TV Glow” has some scenes that go on for a little too long. For example, there’s a nightclub sequence that starts to look like a music video because it shows the full song performance of rock band Sloppy Jane. Better editing was needed for this scene because it doesn’t fit the flow of a conversation that Owen and Maddie are having in a nearby room at the nightclub.

“I Saw the TV Glow” might get some comparisons to Schoenbrun’s 2022 feature-film debut “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” another psychological drama (with some horror elements) about a teenage loner who gets caught up in something on screen that becomes dangerous. “I Saw the TV Glow” obviously has a bigger production budget and a larger, more well-known cast than “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.” However, “I Saw the TV Glow” has a more abstract plot than “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.” Some viewers will be puzzled over what “I Saw the TV Glow” is trying to say.

In the role of Owen, Smith is once again doing a character who is whiny, insecure and often looking like he’s confused or about to cry. Owen is not a bad person, but he can be annoying. Lundy-Paine gives a better performance as Maddie, but there comes a point in the movie where Maddie’s personality becomes almost numb, so the movie loses a lot of Maddie’s initial spark and charisma. “I Saw the TV Glow” can be recommended to people who don’t mind watching offbeat movies with a unique vision and a heavily symbolic story about how secrets and lies can kill a soul.

A24 released “I Saw the TV Glow” in select U.S. cinemas on May 3, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on May 17, 2024.

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