Film Review: Tickled

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-52-04-amImage via Magnolia Pictures

Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

Executively Producer: Carthew Neal

Cinematography: Dominic Fryer

With a style and subject matter echoing QI and the works of Louis Theroux, comes Tickled, the debut feature from New Zealand journalist, David Farrier, and co-director, Dylan Reeve. Like the aforementioned, this documentary descends deep into the inexplicable realm of complete reality. Piece-by-piece, Farrier and Reeve uncover the world of what reveals itself to be an ongoing “Tickling Empire” with a disturbed and shocking history. The result is an extraordinary narrative centred on an ultimately sad individual, fuelled by an untiring sense of curiosity and presented in a fittingly unembellished, equitable manner.

Farrier is a pop-culture journalist in New Zealand, where he makes a living investigating and sharing the “weird and bizarre side of life”. One day, his research leads him to the peculiar Facebook page for “Jane O’Brien Media”, and its advertisement for competitors in “Competitive Endurance Tickling”. The American organisation seeks athletic, young men who are willing to tickle or be restrained and tickled on film. With further investigation, the situation becomes increasingly stranger.


Image via Magnolia Pictures

An initial request for an interview is replied to with melodramatic attacks on Farrier’s homosexuality – an ironic reaction, considering the “sport” videos seem suspiciously like a form of gay fetish porn. The incident only increases Farrier’s will to find out as much as he can and sparks the idea to create a documentary. In response to this, the pair are immediately threatened with lawsuits and Jane O’Brien representatives flown first-class from the US in a menacing attempt to stifle their efforts. Despite the evident immense wealth of the opponent they are facing, Farrier and Reeve decide they cannot give in to the bully and head to America to confront whoever Jane O’Brien may be.

In conversation with the only tickling-video participant willing to speak to them, the control Jane O’Brien attempts to exert over its models is found to be horrifying. The man reveals his experience as the victim of a vicious online defamation campaign derailing his career as a professional footballer, all due to his objection to Jane O’Brien posting a video involving him on YouTube. The revelations that follow are countless, and too unbelievable to spoil – Tickled does not disappoint in regards to juicy twists.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-52-22-amImage via Magnolia Pictures

The inquisitive and optimistic temperaments of David and Dylan throughout the investigation make them admirable, risk-taking hosts of the adventure. Their approach is free of judgement; purely an open-minded quest for truth by reasonable means. Although necessarily indomitable for the sake of gaining contact with key tickle empire associates, respect and decency were never compromised. The directors’ ultimate motivation was to prevent the abuse of more vulnerable young men like their footballer interviewee.

The cinematography of Dominic Fryer establishes the modernity and analytical elements of the film’s aesthetics. Mise-en-scène and camera angles are simultaneously clear-cut and pleasantly artistic; with creative utilisation of the often restrictive locations the filmmakers found themselves in. Concise editing by Simon Coldrick helps to unearth an absorbing narrative amidst what must have been hours of intriguing footage.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-12-51-46-amImage via Magnolia Pictures

Although Tickled eventually gets to what looks like the bottom of what is going on, it would be misleading to say it completely satisfies. Many loose ends are left untied and this may well be a purposeful manoeuvre by Farrier. In any case, the enthralling documentary is a must-see for lovers of investigative journalism and the astounding absurdness of human stories. With a dash of classic New Zealand wit and Stephen Fry himself on board as a producer, a weird and thought-inducing experience is guaranteed.

4 out of 5 stars

Katerina Grypma

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