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Tickled - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

With nearly seven and a half billion people in the world, and nearly three billion people with Internet access, it's not hard to find not just a few people, but a community of people dedicated to the weirdest interests and fetishes you can imagine. Like, say, tickling. Or in the case of the jaw-droopingly bizarre documentary Tickled, "competitive endurance tickling."

That is an unusual specificity when it comes to what New Zealand journalist David Farrier discovered online one day, and decided to pursue more information about for an amusing puff piece. What he found, however, when contacting "Jane O'Brien Media," was a virulently homophobic woman responding with Facebook messages about how she did not want a homosexual like himself associating with them in any way. This is the only time Farrier's own sexuality comes up (presumably his partner had no interest in being in the film), because the woman makes it pointedly relevant, though out of left field. And it's also undeniably curious, considering the tickling videos are, as Farrier puts it, "a bit gay."

The producers of these videos recruit exclusively heterosexual young men between the ages of 18 and 23. They dress in T-shirts and shorts, and one of them is literally bound and restrained on a bed. Then several other young men -- all of then fit -- tickle him: armpits, feet, exposed lower torso. More often than not, one or more of the ticklers are literally sitting straddled over the young man being tickled.

There is never any actual sex in these videos, and yet it becomes quickly clear that these men are being exploited in very uncomfortable ways. Countless among them, once they decide they don't want to do this anymore, are confronted with retaliation: the video of them posted all over the Internet, with all their personal contact information shared as well. Young men humiliated, lives ruined. In at least one case, denial-of-service attacks on a college computer system indicating a young man who was actually innocent was the perpetrator.

This is jus the tip of the iceberg. To say this story is bonkers would be an understatement. Even as a documentary, the less said about Tickled, the better -- well, for lack of a better word. We do find out who is behind this shady operation, and how it is funded, and how long it's been going on. If you want to watch a movie that tells a true story amazing you at every shocking turn, this is the one for you.

I'd hesitate to call it a fun experience, exactly. It's certainly fascinating. As a point of perspective, Farrier finds a legitimate tickle fetish videographer. You read that right. This is a guy who Farrier finally finds willing to talk on camera about this particular interest. He has been making a living at running his own website for years. Farrier does an impressive job of presenting this guy in a way that does not make him seem creepy. We even see a model willingly get strapped to a chair and get tickled by him. The operation is much more professional than the decades-long history of "amateur" videos produced by Jane O'Brien Media, or who is behind that particular curtain. Because make no mistake: it is a curtain.

Farrier and his friend Dylan Reeve -- they are both credited as co-directors -- travel from New Zealand to the U.S. and back, in search of answers to questions that are brought on in greater numbers with each answer they find. They are met with massive amounts of legal threats in both countries. There's more than meets the eye at every step along the way.

Tickled suffers slightly from some obvious lack of experience on the filmmaking end. Some of the interviews are oddly disorganized, with Farrier kind of fumbling his way in front of the camera. He pursues his answers with the zeal of a journalist, to a degree at the expense of his film direction. Some of the filler footage he gets with subjects is almost distractingly transparent. Which is to say, as a movie, Tickled is far from perfect. But just as a story, it's a little disturbing, but nearly impossible to look away from.

A model poses for a less-shady tickle fetish video in TICKLED.

Overall: B
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