Directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve
Opens June 17
A deep dive into a remote pocket of internet weirdness, Tickled is the first feature by two enterprising Kiwis, journo David Farrier and post-production engineer Dylan Reeve. In 2014, when Farrier discovered and blogged about bizarre videos purporting to document feats of “Competitive Endurance Tickling,” he found himself the target of a barrage of harassment and intimidation. His film follows his efforts to uncover the source of the threats and the videos themselves.
As they work to unravel the mystery, the directors are admirably dogged, but the jaded netizen will also find them unexpectedly dense—overlooking the bedrock internet principle that there is a fetish for everything, it takes a half-hour of screentime for Farrier’s narration to conclude that the ostensible athletic event is merely pretext. Similarly, Farrier sympathizes with the young men who’ve been publicly stigmatized and humiliated for their participation in the tickling vids, but never quite acknowledges that his own first reaction was to act as a virtual carnival barker. Nor does he seem to recognize the identity politics at work, that this story of web-enabled exploitation is novel mainly in that its victims are straight men.
Framing the picture as a first-person arc of discovery, rather than a top-down survey, the directors end up caught between navel-gazing and activism. As reportage, the film is woefully lacking in context and perspective; as memoir, it prizes anecdote over insight, stopping well short of genuine introspection. The project’s completion was in doubt more than once, Farrier and Reeve make clear, but they do little to examine their own dedication to it.
Their approach takes part in what might be called the Ira Glass Fallacy, mistaking detail for substance, a conflation that’s unfortunately becoming more widespread in nonfiction as middlebrow tastemakers treat “long-form” as a noun and an end in itself. Farrier and Reeve are more specifically casualties of the Serial Corollary, zooming in so closely on individual puzzle pieces that it’s no longer possible to keep the complete picture in focus. It’s no surprise then, that Tickled resembles a particularly thorough podcast more than it does a work of the cinema.