Tickled (2016) Review: Nothing to Laugh About

By: 3-Deep (A Toast) –

It’s best to go into the documentary Tickled as cold as possible. You might’ve heard some of the controversy. You might’ve read some of the reports. But if you haven’t, then do yourself a favor and see the movie before you do. David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s perversely fascinating, hauntingly riveting film is not at all as lighthearted as its title would suggest.

It’s a twisted, disturbing film, a fitfully maddening and downright bonkers examination of an online subculture you never knew existed before. That is, if you’re lucky. It’s a richly researched, powerfully insistent piece of filmmaking, and an absolutely triumph in investigative journalism, resulting in undoubtedly one of the finest pieces ever brought to film. It’s visceral. It’s brave. It’s commanding. It’s tragic. It’s unnerving. It’s shocking. It’s deeply captivating. It feels dangerous just writing about it, let alone watching it or knowing people actually filmed it. To say more feels like a sin, but I have a review to write.

David Farrier, a New Zealand TV journalist covering human interest pieces, initially thought he stumbled upon something harmless and perhaps innocently silly when he discovered “Competitive Endurance Tickling,” a series of professionally-made online videos focused on young men tying each other up and tickling one another for long periods of time. It was “one of the strangest sports (he’s) ever seen.” David reached out to Jane O’Brien Media, a U.S.-based company, hoping to cover a feel-good story about a quirky sport. It wasn’t long, however, before David received threatening, strongly homophobic responses in relation to his request. He dug deeper, as any journalist would, gathered more evidence and discovered, through the help of his friend, Dylan Reeve, that there was something bigger, darker, and weirder at play. Using their collected media skills, they decided to delve deeper into the controversy via documentary. That’s where I’ll end my summary, because everything else is best left seen.

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A Toast

Farrier and Reeve have made an unrelenting, deeply engrossing piece of journalism, one that should be studied in classes across the country for years to come. Their unceasing reporting, and endless desire to search for the truth, results in a web of engrossing, often haunting results, powered by their never-ending desire to get to the truth, despite criminal charges, bulling lawyers and other overwhelming oppositions in their wake. Tickled is a robust, layered look at deception and entanglement in our 21st century media age, much like Catfish, and a daring and haunting look at crime, corruption, and decades-long unrest, similar to The Thin Blue Line. Yes, I did compare Tickled, a film about competitive tickling on the surface, to one of the best, most inspirational documentaries of all-time. And it’s well deserved.

While it’s often unclear if this is some elaborate hoax (doubtful) or, indeed, the real deal (much more likely, if almost entirely unbelievable at times), it’s nevertheless a piece of work both shocking and stunning, easily among the very few films released this year that left me bewitched and continues to astound me. Filmed with precision, but never afraid to find some twisted beauty in the process, it’s one of those films that’s deeply unsettling to watch, but impossible to look away from at the same time. The results are spellbinding, enraging, and ultimately flabbergasting. It’s destined to become not only the year’s best documentary, but one of the year’s finest films, period.

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The Verdict

Tickled is a enthralling story that continues to develop with each passing day. Even with the film completed and released into theaters, some outrageous new developments over this past weekend prove this story is far from over. Do yourself a favor and join the conversation as soon as possible. HBO picked up the television rights not long after its Sundance premiere, so you should expect to see it somewhere close, whether at home or in a theater near you, very soon. Don’t let it slip through the cracks.

It has all the highs-and-lows of The Jinx, The Imposter, Tabloid, Blackfish, and Jesus Camp, and it’s entirely about tickling. What else can I say at this point to sell you on this movie? It’s a conversation starter-and-a-half, insightful, perplexing, stirring, and possibly set to have some serious real-life consequences. Don’t be mistaken: this isn’t a joke. Don’t skirmish about seeing this one. It gets under the skin, and it doesn’t leave you giggling.

Tickled (2016) Drinking Game 

Take a Drink: every time someone is tickled, obviously.

Take a Drink: every time lawyers are seen or mentioned.

Take a Drink: every time someone is antagonized.

Take a Drink: every time someone is framed.

Take a Sip: anytime something is generally weird, or doesn’t make any sense.

Do a Shot: for the big reveal.

Do Another Shot: for the next big reveal(s).

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