Directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve.
Journalist David Farrier stumbles upon a mysterious tickling competition online. As he delves deeper he comes up against fierce resistance, but that doesn’t stop him getting to the bottom of a story stranger than fiction.
Before going into Tickled, I was aware only of the controversy surrounding it. A website was launched recently rebutting the filmmakers and ultimately calling it a work of fiction in which the producers paid for interviews, even going so far as to teach those being interviewed. Those working for the websites procuring bizarre tickling fetish videos descended upon the premiere with hidden cameras, appeared at random at Q and A’s, handing out law suits as if the most bitter Santa Claus.
David Farrier, an entertainment journalist and master of the eccentric human-interest story, happened upon a video seemingly showing athletic young men clad in gear more appropriate for football, tickling a man bound to a table. Peaking his interest, he attempted to contact Jane O’Brien Media, the conglomerate through with which the videos were released. The reply he received through Facebook consisted entirely of homophobic slurs, resulting in Ferrier and fellow filmmaker Dylan Reeve flying to Los Angeles to find out exactly what the fuck was going on.
There’s a broad sense of the artificial throughout. Any sequence is intercut awkwardly with dull, blandly read narration, as if the filmmakers have an incessant need to tell the audience exactly what they are to feel, while big reveals-of which there are many-fail to hit hard as a result of head smashing sign-posting. All this raises the question, what makes a documentary a documentary? There may be truth buried beneath the surreal, but Tickled struggles to convey this, choosing instead to rely on ever increasing comic tone. Not to say that it doesn’t strictly work as a documentary. It successfully, if unremarkably tells its story, with relevant revelations and scenes of awkward confrontations, but there’s a glaring disconnect between it’s need to make people laugh and it’s clearly less vital need to convey truth.
Thankfully, it’s very, very funny. Those that produce the videos seem genuinely convinced that there are no gay undertones to grown men tickling one another, and thanks to canny editing, punch-lines for the most part land (a final interview with the step-mother of the sinister overlord of the whole affair plays like a Todd Solonz film). Ferrier and Reeve however seem unsure as to whether mock those in the videos. Extended sequences of tickling induce hysterics but find themselves undermined by revelations of blackmail and tragedy. We know tickling as to be funny, and the filmmakers try desperately to capitalise on this but when paired with reveals made to shock, they simply become sad.
As a study on abusive relationships and power through wealth, Tickled works surprisingly effectively. Jane O’Brien Media make no money from these videos; instead it’s a sadistic jerk-off operation where humiliation seems to be the main commodity. The time and money put into these websites-which is revealed to go into the darkest depths of fraud and personality theft-is truly shocking and absolutely bizarre. Yet after all the revelations, the film ends on a slight whimper. The identity of the person running these websites and “tickle cells” is revealed; something clearly sign posted early on.
There’s a far more interesting film within Tickled. But the directors find such glee in the bizarre that it’s increasingly difficult not to find yourself going along with the whole thing. At it’s most confident it’s brazen, bold and very funny.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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