'Tickled' – Film Review

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In the vein of Catfish or The Imposter, Tickled is a documentary that repeatedly yanks the rug from under you. Every time you think you think you’re starting to make sense of what’s going on, it reveals that most of what you understood is a lie and pulls out another bizarre ‘truth’. It’s a film to watch with your mouth agape, by turns hilarious and horrifying. It’s one of the most surprising films of the year.

Everything begins innocently enough. New Zealand entertainment journalist David Farrier makes his living talking to film stars on red carpets and providing fluffy, quirky news bits for TV. When he’s sent a link to an odd video that depicts the bizarre sport of “competitive endurance tickling”, which is exactly what it sounds like, Farrier decides this might be a fun bit for one of his reports. He approaches the sport’s founder via Facebook, asking if they might be interviewed. The reply he gets is vicious, full of homophobic invective (Farrier is gay) and demands he cease all investigation into endurance tickling. Naturally, Farrier starts digging further and what he finds takes him across the world, changes his life and puts him in potentially very serious danger.

The prime pleasure of Tickled is in its lurid storytelling and its constant supply of flesh-crawling twists, but there’s also something very interesting about watching Farrier as a subject. Initially, unused to probing a story, he’s a terrible investigative reporter, because that’s not what he is. He asks poor questions and fails to push for the information he needs to identify the next piece in the puzzle. As he gets deeper into his story, his skills develop, until by the end he’s tracking down subjects who’ve been doing all they can to avoid being found and demanding answers of them. He has the bumbling warmth of Louis Theroux mixed with a touch of the finger-pointing bravado of Michael Moore. The film’s as much about his story as the one he’s investigating.

So what is Tickled actually about? Go find out for yourself, because whatever you’ve imagined it might be from reading this, you’re not even close.

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