It's one of those docs that plays like a fiction film. Like a delightfully odd, yet deep and intriguing fiction film but instead it's absolutely true. Which leaves you speechless and your mind well and truly boggled.
I am not even sure how to summarise what this film is about. I am both anxious not to give anything away but also confused as to where to start.
Basically it's about a New Zealand pop culture journalist who does odd little stories about quirky people in NZ. One day he stumbles across the internet video world of extreme, competitive tickling. When he reaches out to the tickling website for an interview he receives a litany of surprisingly bonkers, homophobic hate mail and then, when he decides to make a documentary about it, the personal threats and legal warnings start. That, and I can't overstate this enough, is JUST the beginning. The rabbit hole this leads the film-makers down reaches further and exposes more than you will ever be able to believe.
If I had to summarise it in a sentence, it's sort of like the Nic Cage movie 8mm, only true, better and about tickling videos.
Here's The Trailer:
Firstly, before I even review it, just go see it. Seriously. Go see it.
If you like mystery stories that manage to take in the whole scope of human experience in a way that is scarily relevant today, then you will love this.
The documentary covers, among other topics, homophobia, sexual fetishes, domination, masculinity, sports, power, the law, internet bullying, psychology, conspiracy, inherited wealth, abuse, intimidation, revenge and, of course, tickling. The story unravels beautifully with each question you may have after 40mins watching it, answered perfectly in the second half.
There are a couple of moments that feel fortuitous, or where the leaps in the narrative could use a little more explanation but apart from that I was on the edge of my seat throughout the 96 minute running time.
Nowadays we are all used to seeing photos and video content of other humans lives, homes, hobbies etc. but there was a point, back when the internet was first a thing, in the 90s, where it all felt strange, new, wild, seedy and bizarre to wade out into the vast and uncensored human experience online.
As the film goes on it can get quite unnerving and manages to put you right back in that place when you first used a chat room, full of weirdly named people (who could be anyone), or when you first saw someone's home made video online. Similar to when you saw your first horror or porn film on an unmarked VHS tape that your mate lent you. You can't quite believe that a person, possessed of the same biology as you, is doing what you're watching. It's very evocative and the late 90s/early 2000s technology is replicated effectively.
The directors, David Farrier and Dylan Reeve need to be applauded, not just for pursuing this story to the ends that they manage to (I am pretty sure I would've packed it in after the first e-mail threat) but for telling the story in such a fascinating, intriguing and guiding narrative.
They also perform the magic trick of wrapping it up in both a filmic way, reminiscent of a thousand straight-to-TV psychological thrillers but also, because this story is true, in a way that feels like some closure, revenge and justice has been had.
David Farrier, co-director of TICKLED, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Dylan Reeve, co-director of TICKLED, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The film stands as a bleak and desperately relevant reminder that the human animal is a confused, frightening, manipulative and powerful thing, especially when it doesn't have to want for food or money.
Tickled is out in theatres in Los Angeles and New York right now and expands around the country through June and July. Find out where and when HERE