It started with tickling. Yes, you read that right, tickling. More specifically, competitive endurance tickling is what lured journalist David Farrier to America. As a self-proclaimed reporter of the bizarre, a story about a giggle-inducing “sport” was right up his alley.
Farrier was in search of his next story when a friend sent him a video that became the catalyst to the dark investigative journey that inspired his documentary “Tickled.” His trek down the tickling rabbit hole embarked with a short clip depicting a group of young, athletically fit men who are partaking in what can only be described as aggressive bouts of tickling with interludes of bondage. With no clue as to what competitive tickling was, Farrier’s descent of discovery led him to an online ad for an upcoming tickling tournament held by Jane O’Brien Media.
Within an hour, he is met with his first roadblock: an aggressive response to his inquiry for more information regarding the upcoming event. In the emailed response, he is not only personally attacked but belittled and irrefutably advised against any future exploration. Maybe it’s a subconscious desire for vengeance that motivates him to seek out further information on this strange, relatively unknown corner of competitive sport, or maybe it’s the inkling that there’s more to this than what’s presented on a surface level.
Whatever the reason, his investigation uncovers a seedy network of corruption that all stems from tickling. It’s a shocking blend of hard-earned evidence and unexpected twists that is so surprising, it requires a physical double take.
But maybe tickling interlaced with underlying dark subterfuge isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re more of a thrill-seeker looking to vicariously role-play as an undocumented migrant attempting to cross the border or someone traversing terrain that emits toxic levels of radiation. If that’s the case, then the culmination of Farrier’s career in his Netflix series, “Dark Tourist,” is your cinematic bread and butter.
The 8-episode series explores one of the younger subsets of travel known as dark tourism. The definition of this noir niche of travel is something that few seem to agree upon, so in hopes of avoiding confrontation, I’ll rely on good old Webster’s interpretation of the term, which is the visitation of destinations closely associated with tragedy.
Farrier immerses himself in a variety of cringe-worthy exploits, ranging from an exorcism in Latin America to a Voodoo ritual in Africa. These less-than-ideal locales are offset by Farrier’s ever-present yet understated charm. Still not sure if you want to dedicate 320 minutes of your life playing passenger to Farrier’s escapades? To help you decide, here’s a quick look at some of the most iconic moments of the series. You’re welcome.
Visiting with Charles Manson’s (possible) friend
It’s a little unclear if Michael Channels, the man bequeathed Manson’s body and the sole benefactor of his will, is an actual friend or just a self-appointed leader of the Manson horde. I know what you’re thinking: Of course he’s a friend. He’s the beneficiary of his entire will. Yeah, but a will of what? Prison-earned smokes and a jug of pruno? I can’t imagine Manson had much to pass on, but hey, maybe he did, and the intense Channels was not only the recipient of his will but the owner to the other half of Manson’s plastic best friends heart pendant.
Regardless, Farrier’s interview with Channels is tensely awkward, yet it thoroughly showcases Farrier’s powers of affability. Wielding his approachability like a multipurpose tool, he keeps the conversation rolling, making Channels’ closed lips become candid.
Participating in a mock illegal border crossing
The series kicks off with adventures throughout Latin America, but the most anxiety-ridden segment includes a reenactment, of sorts, of the desperation-spurred attempt to illegally cross the border. It’s an experience that incites throat-clawing panic to the utmost degree. The entirety of this tourist attraction feels too much like a slap in the face to the individuals that have been forced to endure it, but it was eye-opening nonetheless.
Picnicking in Tomioka
Farrier finds himself being loaded onto a tour bus after being given a Geiger counter, a particle detector that warns the user of elevated levels of nuclear radiation. He’s explicitly told to always keep the Geiger counter on his person for the duration of the tour. The tour begins with a free-for-all style exploration of ghost towns, stores and residential areas that the local government has sanctioned as safe yet remain abandoned.
Not limiting his nuclear tour to just galivanting through a radioactive urban wasteland, he takes his sightseeing to the coast, the frontline of the Fukushima tsunami. The once-bustling coastal city is now just the desolate ruins of what once was.
Dressing up the dead
Farrier sets off to meet up with local guide Endarius, a resident of the remote Indonesian village Toraja. Their first task in this rainforest-encircled town is to meet a fellow Torajan named Yousef, a villager that’s been dead, or resting per the locals, for two years. Farrier enters a low-lit residence, Yousef’s loved ones lining every wall of the interior, surrounding his open casket. Yousef is one of many deceased residents that are celebrated during the village’s death rituals. “I sort of expected him to smell,” Farrier reflects. The lack of odor might be due to the layers of cloth entombing, and apparently preserving, the bodies of the dead.
Nowadays, Farrier has taken a break from traveling, staying stationary stateside, where he’s bunking up with Dax Shepard in Los Angeles. Shepard first met Farrier when he invited him to be a guest on his podcast, “Armchair Expert.” The two clicked so well that Shepard branched out his current podcast to include a recurring monthly special podcast featuring Farrier: “Armchaired & Dangerous.” Conspiracies, cannibalism and other subjects just as dark are standard topics up for discussion during the podcast’s 58 minutes. Farrier’s voice, much like his overall demeanor, has an undeniably likable quality to it, captivating a nationwide audience.