Sometimes a film comes along which is not only difficult to review, it actually feels like revealing anything about it is a disservice to the viewer.
Such is the case with Tickled, a documentary from New Zealand journalist David Farrier. Tickled is the sort of film experience that only gets better when you know very little going in, so I’m going to do something new. I’m going to start with the star ratings we normally do at the bottom, let you see that I recommend it, then you can go and see it and come back to read the rest of the review.
Assuming you ignored me and chose to continue reading anyway without having watched Tickled, I’ll describe the plot in extreme generalities: David Farrier works as an entertainment and human interest journalist who specializes in finding bizarre and offbeat stories to cover. When one of his trips to the weird corners of the internet unveils a series of videos dedicated to the made-up sport of “competitive endurance tickling”, he thinks he’s found his latest piece. However, the videos’ producers not only decline Farrier’s request for an interview, they begin harassing him, attacking his sexuality, and sending legal threats. Farrier is of course intrigued by this, and under heavy scrutiny he partners with his friend Dylan Reeve to discover the real funny business behind competitive tickling. What Farrier and Reeve discover is a conspiracy that simply defies explanation; a backlog of characters and scenarios too strange to be scripted.
In last year’s Best-Picture winner Spotlight, there’s a shot I love where the reporting team is on a phone call discovering new information about the depth of the scandal they are investigating. As the magnitude of the situation pours over them, the camera slowly zooms out, until the reporters appear diminished and crushed by the the unpredictably large nature of their story. Tickled is essentially 90 minutes of that sequence, as Farrier & Reeve begin their quest as somewhat of an inside joke and appear more and more out of their depth with each new bit of information they uncover. By the halfway point, they’ve already encountered friendly porn producers, deployed makeshift hidden cameras, and traversed much of the continental US with no real clear end game. Farrier is particularly fun and occasionally awkward to watch as he crusades into uncomfortable confrontations with no real plan of what he’s going to say or any idea of an expected outcome.
Tickled essentially assumes the medium of a long-form investigative journalism piece; though it seems more like the kind you would see as a running gag on John Oliver’s show. To keep things visually interesting, Farrier and Reeve include some neat tricks with B-Roll footage to represent the status of each scene. For example, when Farrier and Reeve seem to have run out of resources to expose a mysterious string-puller that can’t be uncovered, footage of a dog on a leash chasing a squirrel is used. In addition, some slo-mo tricks are deployed and we get plenty of reaction shots from Farrier, all backed with a hypnotic electronic soundtrack by New Zealand artist Rodi Kirkady with bits borrowed from Primer’s Shane Carruth.
But more than anything, Farrier and Reeve choose to let the surreal story speak for itself.
While it sounds silly in description, it’s soon clear that there’s a darker matter at hand here. Tickled is a tale of bullying and harassment campaigns given nigh-unlimited resources. As Farrier discovers, there are more than mean e-mails, there are lives being completely ruined by an unknown entity. It’s inaccurate to say Tickled sets out to expose an international business conspiracy, though. Most of the fun is in how clearly Farrier and Reeve haven’t “set out” to do anything. Their story takes them from hecklers who stand aghast at the strangeness of the situation to crusaders for the truth, men who set out to do the right thing despite having no real idea what that is or how to go about it. That desperate morality is what gives Tickled its real heart, elevating it beyond the bizarre story it tells.Liked This? Share It!