Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
3 (out of 5) Globes
“I don’t think you’ve grasped the magnitude of what you have provoked,” writes a sinister member of a clandestine outfit that runs something called “Competitive Endurance Tickling.” Gunning to be the year’s strangest doc, “Tickled” takes a Dantean descent into a shadowy netherworld as bizarre as the ones in “Eyes Wide Shut” and J.G. Ballard’s “Crash”: men who get their jones off by being tickled by other men.
While doing some idle Internet spellunking, New Zealand pop culture writer David Farrier happens upon a scene as absurd as it is absurdly intense. When he reaches out to a company that specializes in videos of man-on-man finger action, he receives hostile e-mails that are by turns threatening and virulently homophobic. Then things get really weird.
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“Tickled” follows Farrier as he keeps digging and digging, all the while batting away lawsuits and ludicrously menacing warnings from an organization that seems to think they’re as powerful as the Church of Scientology. Just as Farrier and team stay resilient, so too does they adopt a tone that straddles the line between bemused shock and sincere empathy. The more hostile participants aside, there are fetishists who are more welcoming, more open — and in some cases also the target of the company’s inexplicable nasty streak.
As a film, “Tickled” can be too affable, holding our hand on every step of the journey, spelling out the themes and ideas so any extra thinking seems superfluous. Scene after scene finds Farrier quietly battling aggro company goons while cameras roll. These tussles may play like yet more filmmakers stealing from Michael Moore. Then again, they’re Michael Moore run-ins in which the powerful forces are trying to protect a scene where men try to make other men giggle to the point of ecstasy. Some documentaries are about exposing viewers to worlds ignored or kept from the mainstream conversation. In that regard, at least, “Tickled” is something else.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge