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“Tickled” is one of the more surprising documentaries of the year so far

tickled documentary
Quietly, the Sundance Film Festival is becoming quite a launching pad for strong documentaries. We’ve already seen Weiner win awards there and put itself square into early Oscar contention, and now this week we get to talk about another one. This doc is Tickled, an initially lighter outing that goes in some very interesting directions, to say the least. It opens on Friday, this is one of the better nonfiction films of 2016 so far, a step below Weiner and (if you consider it a release for this year and not 2015) Where to Invade Next, but incredibly solid and deeply fascinating in its own right. It certainly stands out in the crowd, both in terms of being fairly odd and also in how depressingly timeless it turns out to be by the end.

The doc is one that definitely evolves as it goes on. Filmmaker and essentially the star of the doc is journalist David Farrier, who basically randomly stumbles on a website dedicated to “competitive tickling”. It appears as weird as you’d think, so he wants to do a story on it. Along with partner Dylan Reeve, he begins looking into the site and trying to contact someone for an interview. The response back is jarringly aggressive, which sets off a chain of events you literally have to see in order to believe. By the end, the tickling has taken a back seat to the issue of cyberbullying and the damage that one person at a computer with an grudge can do if he or she chooses. Farrier and Reeve co-direct, with Dominic Fryer handling the cinematography.

tickled poster
I think that what Farrier found here is worth discussing, and not the tickling websites, odd as they might be. I mean the concept of cyberbullying and how easy it is to ruin someone’s life from the comfort of your own home. Teenagers deal with this new form of bullying constantly, and even an adult such as myself is familiar with it, considering how I make my bones on the internet. When someone doesn’t have to look you in the eye when they say or do something awful, it gives them this powerful detachment that’s frankly incredibly dangerous. The doc shines a light on it, and does it effectively too, I might add. You’ll laugh a bit at the beginning, but by the end, it’s rather serious and sobering.

Frankly, I suspect that awards love will be hard to come by for Tickled. At the same time, the Oscar race for docs is always an absolute crapshoot, so you can’t count it out. A campaign for a Best Documentary Feature nomination should be in the works, but even if the Academy Awards are a bridge too far, I think we could easily see somewhere like the Gotham Awards embrace the flick. Documentary Feature doesn’t care how big or how small a film you are, so that’s a plus. The candidacy of this movie will certainly bear watching as the year progresses. If it hits with a few precursors…watch out.

Now, I realize that Tickled is perhaps going to be a hard sell. It hits this week and is a niche item for sure, but well worth seeking out. Especially if you’re fond of docs that can really sneak up on your, this has something very unique to offer up. You may have to search for it, but that hunt will be rewarded. This is one of the stand out docs of the year so far. If that strikes your fancy, I suspect you’ll find plenty to enjoy, ponder, and be frustrated about here. It’s a full cinematic meal, as it were…

Be sure to check out Tickled, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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