“I’ve made a career out of looking at the weird and bizarre side of life,” says Kiwi journalist David Farrier as he searches for his next story. Looking online, he finds an unusual competition known as ‘Competitive Endurance Tickling’ where young men hold each other down and are forced to tickle each other on camera.
After a quick giggle, David sends through an email requesting to report on the subject to the company in charge of the competition – Jane O’Brian Media. What he receives back is a an email riddled with expletives regarding how the company doesn’t want to be associated with “a homosexual Kiwi journalist”.
Confused, Farrier attempts to reach out to any contestant who, for the most part, mysteriously remain quiet. As he keeps trying for an interview, the responses become nastier and nastier, before turning into full-blown homophobic harassment.
After David meets three Jane O’Brian employees at the New Zealand airport, he’s told to drop all footage immediately and leave the company alone. Why the reprimanding? Why the secrecy? Naturally, being a journalist, this only makes him more curious as he flies to Los Angeles in search of the truth.
This is a well-crafted documentary by the New Zealand director, and Farrier battles all his natural instincts to put down the camera and drop the film due to the legal (and death) threats he’s receiving on a daily basis.
The film begins by looking absurdly funny (Click here to watch the trailer), but soon it becomes rather clear that tickling is an extreme fetish. Even while watching from your seat, the whole experience quickly makes you feel extremely uncomfortable.
This documentary is about more than just competitive tickling – it’s about power, control, and fierce cyber-bullying. While it is every bit a long and weird trip down the cyber rabbit-hole, Tickled brings in other contemporary issues: it’s easy to make strong connections to revenge porn and the power trips of those keyboard warriors hiding behind anonymous profiles.
The filmmakers also threaten to leave you empty-handed as the conclusion appears to slip out of reach. They peak through a tinted window into a dark corner of the internet, and manage to weave an unexpectedly normal narrative while having almost no idea where the story leads.
Tickled is a must watch for any aspiring journalist. It’s incredible how some of the most bizarre stories can lead you into underworld empires if you’re simply willing to look… just don’t expect to be able to turn your eyes away.
I don’t want to give much else away. The highlight of the movie is uncovering an online realm which seems so harmless at first and, as such, is best seen without much prior knowledge. Nevertheless, Tickled will appear in every top 10 documentary list for 2016, that I can assure you.