Movie Review: Tickled
92 mins ★★★★½
You've probably already heard and read a lot about David Farrier's documentary on "competitive endurance tickling" (who knew?...), which began as a proposed three-minute segment in the Kiwi journalist's "it's a crazy old world" section of TV3's late-night news and rapidly blossomed into a full-blown, feature-length indictment of bullying and deceit.
But what you won't know until you watch it, is how deeply troubling the story turns out to be, and how heart-pounding and stomach-clenching it is for the enthralled viewer.
The notion of grown men being paid to tickle one another, on camera, to satisfy the fetish of I'm-not-sure-who may be enticing enough, and the film (co-directed with Dylan Reeve, a jack of myriad filmmaking trades) begins light-heartedly with Farrier's warmly familiar voiceover, before the rabbit hole rapidly gets deeper and darker. When the journalist himself starts receiving daily threats to stop investigating, it's a red rag to this tenacious team. Soon, he and Reeve are travelling to the United States on the hunt for an online bully, a homophobic PR company and "victims" of this seemingly bizarre sport.
Quite aside from the gripping narrative, having Farrier himself at the helm is doubtless one of the film's trump cards – never have I met a media personality with more sincere warmth and interest in those he encounters, and, throughout some tortuously awkward scenes, he is never less than relentless, professional and courteous. But the film isn't just about threats and cruelty visited upon hapless interviewees: Farrier himself becomes the hunted as the scent gets stronger and the mysterious characters (for, as so often in documentaries, these people come off more as caricatures than real humans) grow more defensive.
There are moments when, from my cosy cinema seat, my heart thudded at least as heavily as Farrier's and Reeve's must have while filming, and the insights garnered will make your blood boil, before leaving you with pause for thought. This completely unexpected journey is a miracle of documentary filmmaking (rave reviews around the world have already acknowledged the "so bizarre, you couldn't make it up" truism), but, more importantly, it's a brave and crucial investigation into an insidious attempt to ruin people's lives.