Tickled (Hot Docs Review)
What begins as a search for a humourous news story turns into something far more insidious in David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s Tickled, a documentary that’s living proof of how truth is always stranger than fiction. Farrier, a reporter in New Zealand, comes upon a website offering young men money to get tied up and tickled in front of a camera (something the site calls “Competitive Endurance Tickling” in the hopes of making it sound more professional). When he tries getting in touch with the site’s owners about doing a story, he gets a nasty reply mocking his sexual orientation followed by legal threats. The unexpected response only interests Farrier more, who recruits his friend Reeve to help investigate by flying to America in the hopes of finding out who creates these tickling videos. What they find is the stuff of conspiracy thrillers, except it involves an empire of online tickling fetish videos (like I said: truth is stranger than fiction).
Tickled is the kind of documentary that relies almost entirely on the twists and turns of its story, meaning that it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible about what Farrier and Reeve discover as they dig deeper into the rabbit hole they stumbled upon. It’s as if both directors know just how incredible their story is, preferring a straightforward, investigative approach that’s paced like a mystery/thriller. And while this approach is entertaining enough, its adherence to a more conventional narrative format winds up sidestepping some of the important questions and ideas that come up during the course of the investigation. There might be plenty to say here about the power of the internet, how for some it can be used more as a weapon than a tool, but it’s drowned out by Farrier and Reeve’s desire to package their film as something more accessible and familiar. Tickled tells a great, sensational story, one that will have people buzzing the same way that Catfish did back in 2010, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Farrier and Reeve could have done a lot more with their story than simply tell it as is.