Journalist Davier Farrier has made a career out of seeking out the obscure fringes of society. So, when Farrier stumbles upon the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling, of course he decides to find out more.
Little does Farrier know that the strange “sport” is something that participants do not want surfaced and broadcast to the public. An innocent documentary about tickling as sport thus morphs into a very different, less silly monster involving homophobic threats and lawsuits.
Tickled is nothing that one would expect. Unique as its subject matter is, it is impossible to predict the trajectory that the film will take. The ferocity of these anonymous figures behind this sport that is laced in deceit and blackmail is frightening, to say the least. Farrier and his partner Dylan Reeve’s pursuit in the face of pending lawsuits is either courageous or too risky for its own good, depending on how you look at it.
The film is a controversy machine, stoking at the flames in a way that may come across as exploitative. But Farrier does not do harm to a community that enjoys the proclivities of tickling, at least he does his best not to. He also gives the larger perpetrators of the film a chance to speak. Still, his tactics can at times be ethically challenging (at one point he hides a camera in a cup to interview someone who does not want to talk on camera).
Indeed, one subject of the documentary has, since the release of the film, created a website dedicated to exposing Farrier as a liar and a fraud. From what it seems, the articles seem to be tangential arguments about specific points of the film as a form of ad hoc attack on Farrier that do not debunk the larger issue at play in the film.
Either way, paratexts aside, the film is compelling all the same. One must only keep in mind that documentaries are not objective; they are presented through lenses in a specific and narrative-driven way.
There is an episode of the popular television show Black Mirror about internet blackmail, where an unknown entity uses online footprints to get people to commit crimes. Tickled is like that episode of Black Mirror, except on a less overt scale and, you know, real. Social satire is much less fantastical when it occurs in reality.
Tickled is, appropriately, as disturbing as the moment when tickling stops being fun and starts getting uncomfortable. A seemingly innocent pocket of internet culture revealed to be something much sinister, the story requires little else on a cinematic level to make its case as a quality film.
The lack of voice from the opposing side undercuts the journalism of it all, but it also makes the mood far scarier. A right-place-right-time situation seems to have given Farrier the perfect opportunity, and the viewer can reap the benefits of the fascinating results.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)