In We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the debut film from director Jane Schoenbrun, the internet is both a safe haven for expression and a terrifying realm of artificiality. The plot follows Casey, a lonely teenager who immerses herself in a horror role-playing game called the World’s Fair Challenge and begins to upload progressively eerier videos of herself online. Soon, she draws the attention of an older man. As their uneasy relationship grows over Skype calls that teeter between fact and fiction, the fragmented narrative shifts from creepypasta horror to drifting mumblecore to harrowing drama, intimately exploring the way self-identity is both established and ruptured online. In World’s Fair, even the loading time between clips in an endless YouTube autoplay stream comes loaded with atmospheric dread.
Schoenbrun’s film is highly attuned to sound: clacking keyboards, the beeping timer on a Photo Booth recording, and gentle, sleep-inducing ASMR help establish World’s Fair’s deeply online mood. Schoenbrun also listened to the music of Alex Giannascoli, aka Alex G, while writing the script, and eventually they recruited the Philadelphia songwriter to compose an original score. Giannascoli is a natural fit, an enigmatic artist whose impressionistic lyrics and scuffed indie rock taps into the same suburban ennui that Schoenbrun captures in World’s Fair. Strip malls, empty parking lots, and dirty snow banks make the setting of the film chillingly universal; Giannascoli’s homespun music amplifies the melancholic beauty that hovers at the edges of those haunted scenes.
To bridge the gap between Casey’s quiet home life and unsettling discoveries on the internet, Giannascoli’s songs vacillate between gentle passages of acoustic guitar and strings and more abrasive, digital instrumentals. On “Stitch,” Giannascoli stretches a glacial synth line to its limit, letting it grow uneasily until shrieking distortion interrupts; it’s as uncomfortable as the scene of body horror it soundtracks, in which a man pulls a string of admission tickets out of a sore in his arm. The seven-minute highlight “Casey’s Walk” embraces ambiance, with formless, sullen tones punctuated by blaring synths that echo and then settle back down, simulating Casey’s closed-off existence while hinting at the turbulent personality lurking beneath the surface. “Main Theme” evokes burnt-out shoegaze, using a wistful guitar melody, fuzzy pitch-shifting, and chanted, barely comprehensible vocals that recur at crucial moments in the film. Giannascoli’s decidedly lo-fi, close-mic’d music might seem a strange choice for a film so thematically and aesthetically trained on the internet, but his fusion of acoustic and digital instrumentation helps ground the humanity of Schoenbrun’s plot and characters.