Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The poster for the new documentary, Tickled (opening today), states: "It's not what you think." That's absolutely true, but it's also not at all what it could have been.
David Farrier is a journalist in New Zealand who one day came across an amusing internet video that had the headline "competitive endurance tickling." We've all been sent some stupid viral videos before, and we also are all fully aware that the internet contains some dark, disturbing and seedy material if you are willing to search for it. His curiosity aroused by this bizarre activity, Farrier set out to do what would have amounted as a fluff piece on this super-strange, super-weird "sport." Doing his research, he discovered that there was a company behind this competitive endurance tickling, and he emailed them to ask for an interview.
What he received in return spurned him to make this Tickled documentary.
The company refused to give the interview, mocking Farrier's sexual orientation (he's homosexual) and then threatening legal action for even inquiring about what he found. This of course only fueled Farrier to dig deeper, and what he uncovered is truly freakish. Turns out, a "tickle fetish" is a thing, but this particular company has an entire underground operation set-up, hosting these competitive tickling competitions. The company preys on young people in need of money, offering them $1000 to simply come in and be tickled. But as Farrier uncovered, this company was also using these videos to ruin the lives of some of its participants, and constant threats of legal action seemed to be the go-to action of the company.
Stranger still, this "company" turns out to be just one guy, a David D'Amato, who was the heir to a financial empire. He is a recluse with a sketchy, checkered past that included fraud, misrepresentation and several other crimes and accusations. Once Farrier starting looking around, this company flew three representatives out to shake Farrier down and scare him into dropping this story. Thanks to some hidden cameras and microphones, all of their extortion efforts were captured and included in the documentary, much to the chagrin of those men involved. As this Tickled documentary had its premiere, these same men showed up and caused an uproar which led to national headlines, and only confirmed their intimidating tactics.
Documentaries like this are awesome, because its clear that the film that was finalized wasn't the same film that was originally set out to be created. There is a synergy in watching things unfold in unexpected ways. But while this is one of the creepiest, aberrant stories you may hear all year, Tickled feels very incomplete. For all of Farrier's courage, he doesn't have the same forceful personality as someone like Michael Moore, also known for inserting himself into his own films, and therefore his investigation really leads nowhere. There were many times during the documentary where I wanted to find out more, but Farrier was either shut-out of obtaining that knowledge, or more frustratingly, he would shift gears elsewhere. For all of the mystery that is created, there is little pay-off, and the final confrontation, where Farrier finally tracks down D'Amato on his way back to his car after grabbing a coffee, really falls flat.
If you're looking for a documentary on just what "competitive endurance tickling" is, you will be very disappointed. But if you're looking for a well-made narrative on how power can corrupt and coerce the meek and vulnerable, then Tickled will hit the spot directly. It's no laughing matter though: This is one documentary that will leave you feeling anything but tickled.
Run Time: 1 hours, 32 minutes, Rated R
Directed by David Farrier & Dylan Reeve (feature debut)
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