A lot of weird stuff can be found on the internet. The general rule is that just about anything – and I do mean anything – is just a Google search away. For example: who would have thought that Competitive Endurance Tickling was a thing? Well, if you believe the new documentary Tickled, apparently it is.
Tickled follows the adventures of a journalist named David Farrier who happens upon an online video of young men being tickled. He discovers a whole subculture of competitive tickling and innocently requests an interview from someone at the company that makes the videos, Jane O’Brien Media, but is rejected because the organization “does not want a homosexual following” and insists that tickling is a “passionately heterosexual activity.” Farrier, who happens to be homosexual, decides to keep digging into the phenomenon and investigating the people involved. He soon discovers that there is a much seedier side to the seemingly fluffy world of competitive endurance tickling.
The first feature-length documentary for both Farrier and his co-director, Dylan Reeve, Tickled goes down a very weird and disturbing rabbit hole. Farrier and Reeve have tense conversations with the homophobic makers of the videos, as well as very open and frank discussions with the subjects in them. They drum up more and more incriminating evidence and speak to a seemingly endless array of witnesses, all while fighting off cease and desist letters from a media company that (for good reason) did not want them to finish their documentary. It’s a story that is stranger than fiction. And that’s one of the problems.
Tickled reeks of the same falsity as the similarly disturbing “documentary” Catfish. That’s not to say that Tickled isn’t real (or Catfish either, for that matter), only that everything in the film is laid out with an overwhelming sense of convenience and drama. All of that drama didn’t wrap up with production, either; the film’s “antagonists,” the folks from the “Tickle Empire,” showed up at Tickled’s Los Angeles premiere for a confrontational Q&A with the filmmakers (and, conveniently, there were video cameras everywhere and the encounter was streamed live to Magnolia Picture’s Facebook page).
Whether the story depicted in (and out) of Tickled is true or not, the publicity that the controversy is generating is worth its trouble in gold. And, also whether the fetishistic tale of power, control, and harassment is true or not, it makes for a great way to kill a couple of hours. So, if weird things like tickle competitions don’t freak you out, you should check out Tickled…before the lawyers have their way and the movie is pulled from the public view.