‘Tickled’

THERE IS A very long list of films that are difficult to sell to a regular cinema-goer––let alone a casual one––but Tickled, the documentary film by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve, must surely place rather highly on it. A one-sentence summary of the film will read something along the lines of ‘A journalist infiltrates the strange world of competitive tickling,’ which is hardly a thrilling synopsis, especially considering the film was released at the same time as The Jungle Book (‘A man-cub named Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery with the help of a panther and a free-spirited bear‘) and A Hologram for the King (‘Cultures collide when an American businessmen is sent to Saudi Arabia to close what he hopes is the deal of a lifetime‘). But the documentary suffers from the particularly debilitating disease of what DenofGeek calls ‘fabula explicatio’, which film buffs will understand to mean that to say too much about the plot of the film would be to spoil it, at least partly. This makes the job of a reviewer, let alone the film’s marketing team, rather difficult.


The documentary suffers from the particularly debilitating disease of what DenofGeek calls fabula explicatio, which film buffs will understand to mean that to say too much about the plot of the film would be to spoil it, at least partly.


The film concerns the New Zealand television journalist David Farrier’s investigation into Competitive Endurance Tickling, a supposed sport in which young men are tied to a bed and tickled by several other young men, with the victim’s ostensible goal being to survive the onslaught for as long as you can. Even within the first ten minutes or so, viewers will suspect there’s more to Competitive Endurance Tickling than meets the eye, and a good chunk of a cinema audience will probably identify––the rule of 34 strikes again––that it’s some sort of fetish. But that’s hardly a groundbreaking insight, and that particular ‘revelation’ comes within half an hour. The bulk of the investigation, then––and therefore the film––centres instead on the wealthy and shadowy figures behind Competitive Endurance Tickling––figures who abuse and threaten and intimidate Farrier as nearly as possible to right away after Farrier makes his first inquiry.

The mystery unravels at a steady and satisfying pace. The film palpably lacks directorial and editorial flair but is told neatly and remains engaging simply because the story, which rapidly get darker as it progresses, is so peculiar. The major flaw of Tickled is Farrier’s lifeless narration, which comes in the sort of monotone that you imagine a fish might use, should that fish have somehow gained the power of human speech. On-camera, however, Farrier is anything except lifeless. You increasingly admire him and his co-director if nothing else because the pair visibly become more afraid and more intimidated the more they learn, and yet feel compelled to continue regardless. There’s something very ordinary about Farrier, who is a minor celebrity in his native New Zealand, which gives him the charming air of a concerned citizen taking a moral stand against a wealthy, bullying organisation and not that of, say, a crusading investigative journalist used to taking on the big boys.


There’s something very ordinary about Farrier, who is a minor celebrity in his native New Zealand, which gives him the charming air of a concerned citizen taking a moral stand against a wealthy, bullying organisation and not that of, say, a crusading investigative journalist used to taking on the big boys.


Perhaps it’s because there’s something about tickling which seems inherently unthreatening that Tickled is such a criminally underexposed and underdiscussed film, but it absolutely deserves to be talked about alongside Lo and Behold and others as one of the best documentaries of 2016. In the hands of an expert director, Tickled might have been one of the best films of the year, but it shines nevertheless because the story is genuinely gripping.

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