In the digital age, resisting the urge to appease our curiosity as humans is almost impossible. We don’t want to see one cute cat photo, we want to see all the cute cat photos. We don’t watch one episode of a streaming series, we watch them all. David Farrier, a reporter from New Zealand with a passion for the odd corners of culture and what creates them, cannot resist investigating a strange video purporting to be from a competitive tickling league when the new film Tickled unassumingly begins. Farrier is researching the video for a story, but he soon discovers something far more complex—not to mention creepy–than he ever imagined.
Shortly after his initial report on the competitive tickling league goes viral, Farrier attempts to contact the company responsible for the video for additional information. The company declines, but Farrier’s attempts to learn more persists, and soon the seemingly professional interaction he’s having with the mysterious business takes a turn for the strange. The company still turns him down, but it does so by making fun of Farrier’s sexual orientation, which only further intrigues the seasoned reporter. Farrier then recruits Tickled co-director Dylan Reeves to help him capture his investigation, and the pair set off on a globe-spanning journey that slowly uncovers a world of fetishism and bullying that has never previously been captured on film.
Tickled is lot of fun when the story begins, and Farrier himself seems to be amused by the strange world of tickling he’s begun to discover, but as he and Reeves learn more about the company behind the initial video things take a turn for the criminal that is both bizarre and incredibly disturbing. I don’t know what Farrier planned to find when he initially began exploring the competitive tickling league, but it’s probably safe to say it’s not what is ultimately captured in this documentary. Very few people know anything about the entity creating the videos, and of those involved that Farrier and Reeve are able to identify very few have anything they wish to say on record. To say anything more would be to say too much, as the real story of Tickled is something that deserves to be witnessed while knowing as little about the world the filmmakers have chosen to explore. They knew nothing going in, and the film works best if the same can be said for the viewer.
Farrier and Reeve are careful to stay on topic throughout the film without making all tickling fetishists out to be criminals, freaks, or wrongdoers in any way. There is a genuine sense of curiosity to their every move, and like all good investigators they seek guidance and understanding in people more well-versed on the subject than themselves. Some offer insight in the mystery of the company harassing Farrier, while others enlighten the audience to the world of tickling. Even Farrier himself submits to a proper tickling experience (though whether or not a complete video of this act exists online is something I haven’t built up the courage to add to my Google search history).
Ripe with mystery and intrigue, Tickled is one of the best documentaries in years, if not of all time. Filmmakers David Farrier and Dylan Reeve have crafted a taut and endlessly compelling investigative feature that is as gripping as any true crime story could hope to be, and in the process they have pulled back the curtain on one of the internet’s more peculiar communities without pulling or throwing a single punch. The fact this movie even exists is a miracle, and that it will soon be available for mass consumption is almost impossible to believe. That said, it deserves to be seen, and if we’re lucky there will be many more films like it produced in the coming years. Tickled sets a new standard for investigative journalism in film, and it does so with such vigor that it’s hard to imagine anyone walking away unchanged by the experience.