‘Competitive endurance tickling’, legal threats, shell corporations, ‘tickle cells’, online naming-and-shaming, fetish communities—it’s fair to say that David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s debut feature TICKLED delivers a whole lot more than its quirky documentary premise might infer. Beginning life as a possible featurette for entertainment Journalist Farrier the story quickly expands into a larger investigative piece after initial enquiries prompt an oddly abusive response from the owner of the tickling website in question. Bringing Reeve on board for technical assistance the two begin a journey which will consume many months of their lives and take them to unexpected places.
Being tickled is usually quite a private experience shared by a couple of individuals. So to watch someone being tickled to the point of breathless whimpering is an incredibly discomforting experience, positioning the viewer as unmitigated voyeur. Certain scenes had me in a full empathetic body cringe; my limbs and torso attempting to curl away into themselves as my eyes remained locked on the screen. But as it turns out the tickling component is mere context—albeit a peculiarly fascinating one—for the true subject of the documentary, which gets creepier as it goes. The filmmakers dive deep down the rabbit hole into an underground warren of fetish tickling and pass well beyond. What begins as simply strange soon morphs into something more sinister as legal threats to Farrier and Reeve start stacking up. Not inclined to back down the pair hop a plane to the United States where their investigations begin in earnest.
Blending talking head interviews with ‘covert’ surveillance footage Farrier and Reeve, cinematographer Dominic Fryer, and editor Simon Coldrick turn out a surprisingly cinematic documentary feature. Some great camerawork and lighting choices make for a visual tone that matches the shifting emotional tone of the film, moving from bemusement to shock to anger to firm resolve. The film’s score mixes original compositions from Rodi Kirkcaldy and Florian Zwietnig with Shane Carruth tracks from his 2013 film UPSTREAM COLOR. The cumulative effect of this quietly dissonant electronica is to ramp up the tension as mystery after mystery unravels. And damn if this film doesn’t get tense. One minute you’re laughing the next you’re feeling very uncomfortable and then you’re gripping your seat arms. I really am impressed with the level of response the filmmakers drew from me and the audience of which I was a part.
The filmmakers’ ‘New Zealandness’ shines through in their interactions with overseas interviewees but the story and themes are definitely international in scope. Positive critical reception from TICKLED’s Sundance premiere evinces the filmmakers’ success in striking a universal chord with their David (and Dylan) vs Goliath story. Great storytelling and capable filmmaking combine with riveting subject matter to make TICKLED a cinema experience not to be missed.
Rating: M Offensive language and sexual themes.