Hold that thought. It’s not what you think. What begins as a rather whimsical look at the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling turns into a nightmare of abuse, threats, legal action, and terror in the most bizarre yet comically frightening, must-see documentary of the year.
When NZ journalist and TV personality David Farrier comes across an online video of competitive tickling, he decides there’s a fun story to be had and contacts the hosts, Jane O’Brien Media, for an interview. What erupts is an almost immediate tirade of abusive, homophobic harassment in response to his request. Before long, legal threats are made to stop the documentary and the company is sending three men across the world to face Farrier in person and insist he stops snooping.
It’s said that life is stranger than fiction and in this documentary on trying to make a documentary, that quip holds true as events quickly get more and more bizarre. Surprised by the abusive response and attempts to intimidate him, Farrier sets off to America with his friend Dylan Reeve to investigate further. Soon they discover participants in the tickling videos are too afraid to speak out and those who have left the company have sometimes had their lives destroyed with anonymous calls to their workplace, public websites set up with their contact details and all videos on display, threats to their family, and more.
Ferrier learns that ‘tickle cells’ are set up across the globe, from England to Australia, yet no one has ever met the elusive owner of Jane O’Brien Media – a company registered in Germany and owner of hundreds of other tickling-related web addresses. The hunt begins to identify Jane O’Brien, leading the investigation further into conflict against the mysterious tickling cartel that seems to have a bottomless pit of money to carry out its threats.
Tickled is compulsive viewing. It’s as funny as it is mysterious and terrifying, and it’s difficult to stop watching as each new twist takes the film makers further down the rabbit hole. If it wasn’t all true, it would be difficult to believe.
Terror has a funny bone. If you see one documentary this year, make sure it’s Tickled, because Jane O’Brien does not take ‘no’ for an answer.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10
Tickled opens in cinemas on 18 August 2016.