Tin Can and We’re All Going to the World’s Fair are screening as part of the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival taking place Aug. 5 to Aug. 25.
Tin Can sets up a vaguely intriguing premise about a pandemic which is ravaging the population and a scientist working on the treatment. It appears like it may be a high concept sci-fi film mixed with an intimate character study. Then, the film quickly pivots to a puzzle box mystery where a group of people are stuck in an industrial contraption, hooked up to a series of tubes and being watched by faceless figures.
It is difficult these days to do something novel with this subgenre where characters are stuck in a single, low-production-value location. Recently, Escape Room and its sequel used it for mainstream popcorn thrills. The Platform used it for a blunt satire of socioeconomic class systems. Most of the time, though, these claustrophobic puzzle thrillers appear pretty derivative of one film or another. In the case of Tin Can, a shadowy corporation wants to experiment on a group of people, ultimately letting them die for the sake of some nebulous cause (it’s the same premise as Cube only subtracting the novel conceit of a killer maze of cube-shaped rooms and adding the premise of a coral-based disease).
Tin Can spends an inexcusable amount of time sitting in one location without moving the plot forward or explaining the situation its characters find themselves in. This stagnancy sinks the film, so that when the plot does shift dramatically to a new perspective it is too late in engaging the audience in this sci-fi environment.
The truth is, the story has nowhere exciting to go. The mystery of this kidnapping and attempted escape is, visually and narratively speaking, flat and uninteresting. The backstory given to the protagonist and the relationship that ultimately leads her to her present—the importance of which the opening scenes of the film heavily hint at—is utterly boilerplate. The blank expressions two characters exchange during one of these flashbacks almost give the whole backstory angle the feeling of parody.
At the end, the film trudges toward its resolution with faux triumph, as if the script has accomplished something profound, when in execution what it has presented is barely explicable. This brink-of-apocalypse setting is so underdeveloped that the ramifications of anything the story has produced is left unknown. And the protagonist’s arc is so conventional that the stakes are not satisfying at the small-scale level, either. The best that this film has to offer is some effective (and effectively slimy) makeup effects.
Tin Can: C-
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
A mesmerizing, almost hypnotic conduit into an internet rabbit hole, Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair creeps eerily along, indulging in the occasional pastiche of fanmade creepypasta content, but most readily presenting as a dour depiction of loneliness where the internet is both a remedy and a cause. Casey (Anna Cobb), a teenage loner, decides to vlog her experience taking part in the online alternate reality horror game known as The World’s Fair. It is a game that allegedly causes players’ bodies to irrevocably change, causes them to lose control of their mental faculties.
The opening credits introduce Cobb as acting in her debut role, but one wouldn’t know it to watch her. Her performance superbly taps into the character’s isolation and the desire (and apprehension) to find a community—The World’s Fair just so happens to be the wrong community to bandwagon onto.
I don’t think We’re All Going to the World’s Fair nails everything it is going for, but it is an effectively unsettling mood piece with a number of transfixing moments. The film is book-ended with long-take closeups on characters, and both scenes are a can’t-look-away level of creepy for vastly different reasons. The ending made my skin crawl—I can’t tell you the last time a new horror movie did that.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair: B+
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)