Tickled: Film Review
Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
The hook of Tickled is that it sets out to discover more about the slightly weird subject of fetish sport Competitive Tickling.
The fact that it becomes something else and moves into darker territory is a testament to directors Dylan Reeve and David Farrier, who find themselves caught up in something infinitely more sinister than they could ever have imagined.
And the peril of a review of Tickled is that to reveal much of the plot and intricate details of within is to rob it of the singular experience which it provides and spoil the twists and turns which inhabit the journey on to its ultimate destination.
Suffice to say this - NZ journalist David Farrier, who, archive footage initially shows, has carved himself a career out of the weirder and more colourful characters and subject matter within our worlds, finds himself intrigued when stumbling across a story about people being tickled on camera.
With his curiosity piqued, David dropped the organisation behind the bizarre tickling videos a message - only to have personal abuse and hostility thrown his way. Whereas most people would have run a mile at this point, Farrier, along with his self-appointed "geeky friend" Dylan Reeve started to look more into the world.
But as they dug deeper, legal threats began to head their way....
The almost conspiracy-like doco Tickled is a masterful piece of work, and one that rises above its initially intriguing material to become something totally unexpected that sheds uncomfortable light on the human condition and avoids exploiting its subjects for easy wins and lazy grins.
With some dazzling B-roll and cutaway shots (DP Dom Fryer is really the unsung hero of this piece), Tickled looks a million dollars as it pursues its David (Farrier) vs Goliath story.
With a wry sense of humour, a mix of easy and uneasy laughs, and some taut journalism, as well as a deft employment of the number 8 wire, Farrier and Reeve's respectful tone and refusal to over-sensationalise their subject matter make the journey more than worthwhile. (And also leave you with an overall feeling of unease when it's over - it would be easy to villainise the people involved, but by employing a lighter touch, the long-tail feeling is more difficult to shake).
In pursuit of their story, both are courteous in their treatment of their interviewees and appear never anything less than sane in the face of a spiralling tale that becomes a cautionary piece for our digitally obsessed age. It helps that the core subject and people they speak to all have the quirks necessary to bring it all to light.
But as the hornet's nest is prodded, the resultant provocation and overt threats bring a menace to proceedings from the shadows that is palpable (and which suggests the doco's conclusion is by no means the end of the story). Equally, the audience's belief of what the film offers changes in a subtle and clever manner as the pieces of the puzzle come together. (Perhaps the closest cinematic touch point in a round-about way is a doco from Bart Layton that stunned audiences in 2012).
There's a real sense of suspense to Tickled, (which came to fruition via Kickstarter) and if the reveals are suspected a little early on, the resultant ripples and extent of their revelations from within the rabbit hole are deftly handled as the reality of the situation and the implications of the cyber-bullying become apparent. In many ways, this is a cautionary tale of power, a warning over the wiles of the internet and the machinations of the electronic age.
The power of Tickled the movie lies in the genial and gentle nature of those instigating the doco - and its strengths are built upon by an ease of execution which makes things all the more tense. The saying that truth may be stranger than fiction is employed here, but the reality of what the duo uncover is nothing short of disturbing and horrifying.
Surprising in many ways, Farrier and Reeve have concocted an experience that subverts expectations and yet ticks and exceeds every box of the genre, by engaging you in the subject matter, hooking you in and then leaving you on the edge of your seat, with your jaw firmly around your feet.
Tickled may have you laughing at times during proceedings, but in its resolution, the underlying cautionary feeling of discomfort (and perhaps surprisingly, sadness) is one that is exceedingly hard to shake.
Tickled releases in New Zealand cinemas on May 26th
Read a Q And A with Tickled directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve here