Movie Review - Tickled

The closest comparison is the documentary Catfish (2010). This movie is constructed the same way, as it follows a similar premise. That 2010 film sparked a MTV series, starting in 2012, that exposed millennial, Internet culture that included people using websites like Facebook to hide who they really are and trick others into relationships or into doing whatever they wanted. Through the MTV series, we've seen this Internet culture take dark turns and this film feels like it could be an extreme example from those dark turns. Yes, this whole thing could be an episode of Catfish: The TV Show, but its origins get traced to the late 1990's, proving the perverted nature of the web didn't begin with people under the age 30.

The movie Catfish shared some DNA with a lot of M. Night Shyamalan films in that it was all about the twist ending or the shocking reveal. This movie also has a mystery, a whodunit in a sense, that shares some of that same DNA, but this movie doesn't build to it quite the same. Essentially, the mystery in this movie is solved about half-way into it. It's not pushed to the end. The movie is less about surprising its audience as it is about enlightening on its characters and the situation. It's just not all together successful at either.

David Farrier is the Nev Schulman of this story. He's a New Zealand TV news reporter who becomes the target of homophobic attacks when he starts to investigate an online phenomenon known as Competitive Endurance Tickling, which are a series of videos where young, athletic men are held down and tickled aggressively and also playfully. When Farrier's friend and family man Dylan Reeve, the Max Joseph of this story, joins in to make a documentary, that's when things escalate and the company behind the tickling videos starts to make threats, mainly legal.

Initially, there's some connecting of dots. The first third to half is very much like a police procedural or going from point A to point B, even employing cop tactics like a stakeout. There's even a slight Michael Moore aspect to it à la Roger & Me (1989). Yet, Farrier or Reeve never get personally involved. In many ways, Farrier remains as elusive as the person he pursues, even though Farrier is the one on camera most of the time.

Say what you want about Moore. He did aim at huge targets. This movie instead is such a niche piece of work that doesn't have as much country or worldwide implications. There are seemingly tons of people who are affected, but it just doesn't have the same stakes or even come as close to having the same kind of resonance as a Michael Moore film. It gives the film a kind of uniqueness or quirkiness, which could be appealing, but, at the same time, it makes the movie more difficult for which to care.

The movie tackles the issue of cyber-bullying, and of course we should do what we can to combat bullying of any kind. The movie also brings up a fraud and harassment case nearly 20 years ago that focused around a Drexel University student, which was serious enough to involve the FBI, but of the present-day victims, the movie exposes less an external threat and more an internal one. There are clearly elements of classism and possible racism (all the victims and indeed everyone in this movie are all white), as well as gay panic. Farrier touches upon them but doesn't dig into them as much.

What caused me not to connect with this movie is something that felt too incredulous. One of the victims is a football player named TJ who talks about how his life was ruined or at least his livelihood threatened because he participated in the tickling videos. Yet, I couldn't take TJ seriously. Yes, he was bullied and libeled or slandered online with nasty things said about him that were mean, unfair or blatantly not true. I understand his fears and frustrations about that. I just don't understand his feelings about what happened prior.

Supposedly, his tickling videos were meant to be private but he didn't like that they were posted online. He then got YouTube to have the videos taken down, which caused the bully to go after him. TJ or someone else compared the posting of the tickling videos to the posting of one's sex tapes without your permission. What was incredulous to me was this comparison. I never could make that connection, but the people on Farrier's side tacitly agree that these tickling videos are as equally damaging as sex tapes or porn videos.

I just watched Weiner, the documentary about Anthony Weiner and how his mayoral campaign was ruined because sexual pictures of himself got out all over the Internet, not once but twice. After all of that, the former New York, Congressman was able to find a job, so the fears from TJ are irrational. Yet, an analysis of those fears might have been a better avenue to explore. Underneath those irrational fears, I suspect lie some homophobia, but Farrier would have us ignore that and weep for someone like TJ, poor him.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.


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