I absolutely love a good documentary. I’ve always found them to be the highest form of entertainment in the world of film and television – I’m all for getting lost in a space fantasy or a spy thriller, but there’s nothing more engrossing than real life itself. Documentaries bring us inspiring stories of people, times and places and from each one, we learn a little bit more about the world. But not all documentaries are uplifting or fun…sometimes they show us the dark side of human nature.
Tickled is an extremely difficult film to review because after the initial premise, it quickly becomes something a little stranger than expected – and that’s saying a lot for a film about the hidden sport of endurance tickling. With that in mind, I’ll try and be as vague as possible but there is a possibility that mild spoilers may be found within my words. If you want my advice, close this review and just watch the film. Right now. Read nothing else about it before you watch it, and your experience will be greater for it. But for those who need persuading, read on…
Tickled follows David Farrier, a New Zealand "light entertainment" reporter on the hunt for a big story. After he stumbles upon videos online about an activity described as "competitive endurance tickling" - in which young athletic men are restrained and tickled by each other - he begins to research it. However, his initial enquiries to the video creators are met with extremely hostile and cruel replies, telling him they’re not interested and insulting him. Intrigued by these alarm bells, Farrier partners with television producer Dylan Reeve to learn more about these tickling videos and the people who produce them.
What follows is an increasingly tense and borderline frightening story of one of the many underbellies of this world. Our two heroes travel from New Zealand to the US to pursue these video creators, as well as interview past tickle video participants, and find out just what it is they have uncovered. The initially amusing and light premise becomes quite the opposite.
Tickled is a thoroughly engrossing and tense story that plays out like a fictional thriller or drama, causing us – the audience – to frequently need to remind ourselves this shit is real. This is helped by the rather stunning cinematography and sharp editing, giving the film a very cinematic feel – but still remaining grounded in the documentary genre.
The film has a lot in common with 2010’s Catfish film, as our heroes are met with dark deceit and increasingly unusual revelations as the story unfolds over its short 90 minute runtime. This is the sort of documentary that Alfred Hitchcock would’ve loved, dropping twist after twist on us and shocking us at every turn. The film travels far across its runtime, beginning innocently and ending in darkness.
And that’s as much as I’m able to say. Tickled is an absolutely unforgettable documentary and one you simply cannot miss. Watch it, make your friends watch it, make your family watch it, make strangers watch it (like I’m attempting to do…) and discuss it – because there is a lot to discuss.
Tickled is a masterpiece of the documentary genre.
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