Before we get started, just know that I enjoyed the new documentary TICKLED, and I absolutely recommend you take the time to see it in theaters. Know as little as you can. Don’t google. Watch the trailer only if you must.
If you’re unconvinced and still reading… well, here’s where it gets tricky. Because central to the experience of TICKLED is watching its twists and turns unfold. You won’t even believe how weird this thing gets, and many of the film’s best moments are tuned precisely to the shock and thrill of that escalation. To review it properly risks spoiling it. Spoiling it risks ruining it.
I’ll provide an overview. New Zealand journalist David Farrier (see Kool Kat of the Week interview here) is the kind of guy who trafficks in weirdness. Known in his home country as an entertainment reporter and personality, Farrier is the guy you send in to the field to witness the weird and off-kilter. His territory is the human interest story, the kind of thing that would show up at the tail end of a news broadcast to give you a light laugh and send you on your way. Need a guy to do a sit-down with GWAR? Farrier’s your man. In his quest for the odd, Farrier stumbled upon something he’d never seen before—a competitive endurance tickling league. Videos produced by an entity called Jane O’Brien Media lurked on YouTube, depicting young men in athletic gear tickling one another for sport. Farrier laughed, and sent out an email asking for an interview and a profile.
That’s when all hell breaks loose.
The film chronicles Farrier’s surprise as he becomes the target of seemingly crass, homophobic emails attempting to prevent him from writing his small article. Sensing a larger story, Farrier begins a collaboration with filmmaker Dylan Reeve, a partnership that takes them to some weird corners of the internet, across the Pacific to the United States, and into a web of harassment and hate that spans decades. At one point, the film shows Farrier engaged in an actual car chase.
Let me repeat that. From tickling videos to a car chase on American streets.
This movie is unbelievable.
TICKLED is a slick, well-produced documentation of Farrier’s investigation that takes great pains to provide the context the story needs to avoid feeling like a hit job. Farrier takes time to meet with innocent tickling enthusiasts who demonstrate the innocent, victimless nature of their fetish that contrasts wildly with what’s going on in the YouTube videos, making it clear that this is not an attempt to shame a subculture, but rather a document aimed at defending it. The bad behavior on display in TICKLED is very bad indeed, stretching way beyond the studios where the videos are made and into a world that intersects at poverty and privacy, at benevolence and exploitation.
TICKLED is a living document, to an extent. Legal threats are all over this thing, and the recent LA premiere became a shouting match attended by some of the figures from the film. The story is not yet over. But TICKLED makes a very strong case for who should held accountable, and by bringing the film to the widest possible audience, Farrier and Reeve hope to bring a shadowy organization into the light.
Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.