TV REVIEW: Dark Tourist

We first came across Journalist/Documentarian David Farrier through the deeply thrilling, fascinating and (quite frankly) bizarre documentary ‘Tickled.’ When released back in 2016 it picked up a lot of hype at some of the film festivals, but we had only managed to catch it recently with its release on Amazon Prime. Check it out if you haven’t already.

His new series, Dark Tourist, has been a hit on Netflix and sees David travel the world experiencing ‘dark tourism’ – trips and excursions that plunge you into the dangerous, morbid or plain weird areas and aspects of certain cultures.

In all my 18 years working in travel I had never heard of Dark Tourism, so I was intrigued! And we loved each episode – The combination of Farrier’s style and humour, and the situations he finds himself in, make for fascinating, funny, and sometimes uncomfortable viewing.

There is something about David Farrier that makes you feel like he is a mate of yours – the one who is gawky, funny, but daring, and can make you cringe as much as make you laugh. He also seems a little fearful and unsure about some of the things he sees, seemingly too fragile for such intense and sometimes gross goings on. But what he certainly isn’t afraid of is probing questions and challenging the people he meets -sometimes pushing his luck a bit – but this certainly makes for interesting television!

The series starts with a trip to Colombia where David meets one of Pablo Escobar’s ex-henchmen, a man who has killed hundreds of people and served time in prison, but now gives Escobar tours and makes popular YouTube videos. He manages to charm David and they share jokes and get along well. David feels conflicted with the new friendship, saying openly and honestly “I like you…you come across as a nice guy, but then I have to remind myself that you have killed a lot of people.”

This theme runs throughout the series – you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, you shouldn’t look but you can’t help it, you feel disgusted and shocked yet fascinated and intrigued, it’s wrong but maybe it’s just different. And that’s the draw of dark tourism – the intrigue and thrill we all get from exploring the darker side of human history and life.

There are some great comedic moments, with Farrier liking to subtly mock the tour guides, or try and lighten the mood with his witty observations; but not before hitting home some astonishing and shocking reveals that remind you that there was often human pain and suffering behind every dark tourist thrill.

This is very apparent when David takes a swim in a radioactive lake, joking about two-headed fish, before visiting abandoned children affected by the radiation in a home. A deeply moving and shocking moment in the series. He also experiences what it would be like to try and illegally cross the Mexican border and be held at gunpoint by drug cartel, finding the whole role play amusing and over the top until the group remember that there are people so desperate that they risk their life to make this journey all the time.

This is no ‘The Idiot Abroad’ so anyone thinking they are getting something similar best be prepared. Farrier likes to really get his journalistic side out and dig deep to try and understand the concept of dark tourism, what makes the people enjoy it and even more importantly – why!

The series has had mixed reviews from the countries depicted in the show, most notably the United States where the Washington Post declared: ‘It isn’t worth the trip’. But maybe they didn’t get it, as we certainly think it’s worth a watch. Doing the bizarre holidays is another thing entirely though. Farrier recently appeared on New Zealand television stating – ‘Don’t do any of it’ when asked about what he would recommend from his array of experiences. And for most people it’s enough to let Farrier do the hard work while you enjoy it from the comfort and safety of your sofa.

That is where the clever link is – this isn’t a show to glorify this bizarre form of macabre travel and the peculiar experiences (and people) that comes with it. It is a reveal to those unaware and then an investigation into the dark depths it goes. Farrier is the poor sod who gets to bravely (at times) experience it!

On the same TV show in New Zealand Farrier, recalling one of his dark experiences which really seemed to push him to his limits, says: “I paid a man in dog food to torture me” and quite frankly that should be enough for you to switch on and see it for yourself. After all, it’s is all about curiosity!

And David, we are really really sorry but….. we want more!

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