Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed May 05, 2021 9:26 pm 
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Perhaps a calmer look at online obsessions

Focused on a lonely young woman stuck in her attic room playing an internet game, Jane Schoenbrun's film seeks to depict the way in which for some, mostly of the younger generation, obsession with the online world can seem to veritably suck away the soul - figuratively speaking, I hasten to say. That this is a frightening, disturbing prospect is an impression augmented by focusing on an online game developed out of horror movies. The actress playing this person, the voluntary victim, whose name is Casey, Anna Cobb, has a sort of deep involvement in her role and an open, childlike face that many reviewers have commented on favorably, predicting a future for Cobb. Unfortunately there is no escape from the fact that the film itself is stultifyingly boring, dreary and uneventful. Some have noted that it makes 85 minutes seem like quite a long time.

The use of webcams and smartphone cameras for the images offers a new direction for variety in film images, appropriate for depicting this kind of world. Use of these media in film seems not very hopeful for those who value sophisticated visual technique and aesthetics; but you never know what an inventive new eye can do with a different medium. Sean Baker's debut of [url=""]Tangerine[/url], six years ago, was a sterling example. It sparkles, the look enhancing the lively personalities depicted. And it was shot with no professional or even quality amateur lenses but nothing but three iPhone 5s cameras.

The phone images were enhanced, though, using a small battery of cool modern tools: the FiLMIC Pro app, a video app to control focus, aperture and color temperature and capture video clips at higher bit-rates; and, importantly, an anamorphic adapter for widescreen imagery. The digital tools underfunded, minimalist filmmakers have at their disposal today are a main way that they can produce attractive results with economic means. Schoenbrun isn't interested in that however but in suggesting the dreary, limited technology unsophisticated online geeks are satisfied with.

At the outset the film takes eight minutes of us in effect staring through a webcam disturbingly alone with Casey - who would want to be such a person? Who would want to be stuck with her? The effect is "real" in having no feeling of being edited or being a real film made for an audience. But this is the kind of "realism" that is achieved at the terrible cost of boring the pants off of us. The saving grace: it's creepy. And the "point" is that Casey is announcing her signing up, though whatever that means exactly wasn't clear to me, for the "World's Fair Challenge," which is billed as the internet's "scariest horror game."

This game is further depicted as altering participants in frightening ways, such as making one guy unable to feel his own body. But though Casey seems creepy and sad in her isolation from human, live society and her lack of apparent affect, she appears relatively bright and cheery describing what she's about, going out in the snow with her webcam (leaving her room a potentially hopeful sign) and declaring, matter-of-factly, "I love horror movies and thought it might be cool to try living in one."

I fell asleep after that, figuratively, as the leaden pace continues, though it is clear Casey dons some kind of horror mask, and connects with an older man who creepily follows her, directing her to film herself sleeping and then obsessively watches her, though in the end he seems concerned for her well being. Reviewers have commented favorably on the fact that all this does not lead to some kind of gruesome apocalypse; that the film depicts an internet-obsessed life as more routine than outsiders might think, and less harmful, if not ideal for developing young minds and bodies. But as the film concludes, it seems this world - not so different from the online chat rooms of the eighties, by the way - can easily become a hiding place for a young person in need of psychological help, and not getting it this way.

I asked myself if this could constitute a viable "High Maintenance" episode and I had to say not.

We Are All Going to the World's Fair, 85 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021. Screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).

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