Directed by: David Farrier & Dylan Reeve.
Tickled is the type of story that documentaries were made for – mainly because if this wasn’t a documentary, you wouldn’t believe the story it has to tell. Its directors are two New Zealand reports – David Farrier, who is the on camera person, who has made a career telling “human interest” stories, and his producing partner, Dylan Reeve. Farrier stumbles around online looking for stories, and finds what is described as a “Competitive Tickling” video – which basically consists on several young men – they may been teenagers – strapping or holding down another young man and, well, tickling them – the result is what you expect – the person being tickled giggles and squirms. For something called “Competitive Tickling” there is no real indication of how they are competing against, or how you “win” – but the videos are odd enough that Farrier decides he wants to do a story about them. He sends a request to the company making them asking about doing that story – and receives a response back saying they don’t want to be associated with a homosexual journalist like Farrier – he wants more information, and the responses get nastier. He and Reeve decide to make a documentary about all this – and three representatives from the company fly all the way to New Zealand to talk to them – although all they say to them is stop what you’re doing, or you’ll be sued. For what? Does it matter? They have money – Farrier and Reeve do not. Even if it is a frivolous lawsuit, that costs money. Many people would give up at this point – but not Farrier and Reeve, who end up going to L.A. to find out more information – and eventually to Michigan to interview some of the people in those videos, who have horrible stories to tell. And to talk to a different person – who makes similar videos – who is all too happy to let Farrier and Reeve see what he does – and seems like a perfectly nice guy, and even the man he is filming doesn’t seem to mind either. So what the hell is up with the first company?
Spoilers to Follow
When the film debuted at Sundance earlier this year, a lot of reviews alluded to the shocking twists and turns the film takes as it progresses. Personally, I didn’t find too many of the revelations in Tickled to be all that shocking – for one thing, it’s very clear from the get go that this is not really “competitive” tickling – but are really fetish videos. For those of us who don’t have a tickling fetish, the videos seem goofy and silly – like pretty much all fetishes that one doesn’t have, even if to those who do, it they can be very powerful. For another thing, I’ve seen Catfish – which was a film about someone pretending to be someone else online – which is what happens in Tickled as well, as the woman who is most runs this company, but remains in the shadows, will eventually be outed as someone else entirely – a result that isn’t shocking, as much as it rather sad. I’m not entirely convinced the filmmakers themselves are that shocked by the revelations either – while I don’t doubt the story, I do have a few doubts about the way they presented them (for one thing, it seems odd that they start working on a documentary when the supposedly know nothing – but whatever).
Yet, even if the film isn’t quite as shocking as it sets out to be, it’s still fascinating. It’s a film about sex and money and power and privilege, and how those things can be abused. The film isn’t as shocking as Catfish was – in part because Catfish had already been made, but also in part because while I’m not convinced Farrier and Reese were quite so ignorant of what kind of doc they were making from the start, I think the filmmakers behind Catfish knew even more – and played everything up to make it even more “SHOCKING” than it otherwise was.
Tickled is a sold doc – about the sordid areas of the internet that most of us never go. If it wasn’t for the abuse behind it all, it would be rather amusing – other people’s fetishes always are. But the film ultimately ends up being more sad than anything else.