Tickled - film review

by James Robins / 25 May, 2016
Compelling journalism exposes a ticklish and tortuous world.
Tickled. Photo/Supplied
Tickled. Photo/Supplied


What could be more macho than a group of buff, buzz-cut young men in sports gear feverishly tickling each other while tied to a bare mattress? This fetish – known in professional circles as Competitive Endurance Tickling – occupies a smaller internet niche than even the mechanophiliacs or furries can claim. And yet when Kiwi pop-culture reporter David Farrier started peering into this sub-genre, he reports a barrage of homophobic abuse. What gives?

Tickled begins as one of Farrier’s many offbeat TV curiosities, a sideways look at the strange and batty. But when the American lawyers arrive and the camera goes covert, we begin to think there might be a more sinister side to this semi-erotic, quasi-torturous mini-industry.

Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve travel stateside and find two diverging stories. There’s consensual tickling – a long scene of a solid fellow strapped down and subjected to a feather duster – but there are also allegations of bullying, intimidation and financial chicanery traced back to one company and its apparently unlimited funding for both lavish gifts and legal threats.

Most people would feel a little itchy watching the slickly produced tickling videos, but it’s the machinations behind them that make you writhe with discomfort. Farrier and Reeve find a small Michigan town whose young male underclass claim to have been preyed upon by the shadowy figure they’re chasing. An aspiring football player has his career apparently overturned and threats recycled against any prying person – including the film-makers themselves.

A compelling piece of journalism, Tickled is rescued from bleakness by the humanity and instinctual humour of its creators. Farrier and Reeve never lose sight of the absurdity of the mission, nor do they gloss over the fact that it’s people’s lives and mental health at stake. 

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