Competitive endurance tickling. It sounds fun, and it’s, on the surface, what David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s documentary Tickled is about. Guys strapped down and being tickled by other guys – a little weird, but mostly harmless, right?
That’s what I thought at first. Tickled starts off innocently enough: Farrier discovers videos of a sport described as “competitive endurance tickling”, full of young athletic men being tickled by other young athletic men. It seems whimsical and whacky, and something fun to report on (Farrier reports on ‘light entertainment’), so he reaches out to the company behind it, Jane O’Brien Media. That’s when things start getting weird – he receives threatening, homophobic replies from a Jane O’Brien representative, warned to back off, or else.
Like a true journalist, he doesn’t leave well enough alone, and dives into a strange, twisted, conspiratorial world in which young men are lured into appearing in tickling videos for cash, and if they try to leave or speak up, have their lives destroyed through the internet – their personal information is posted online, they’re accused of being paedophiles, and worse.
The investigation takes them from New Zealand to America and back, in a bizarre rollercoaster of a whodunit tracing back over a decade, spanning AOL and Hollywood casting agents and tickle fetishists. Farrier talks to what seems like everyone who has had a part in the story – it’s so intricate and unbelievable, it seems more like fiction than truth at times.
Describing the documentary doesn’t do it justice – the entire time, I was glued to the screen, feeling anxious and stressed out and incredibly intrigued. Each fresh twist had me grabbing my friend’s arm – what do you think is going on?, I’d demand at each new revelation. I don’t know, he’d reply, reliably, and we’d continue watching, still on the edge of our seats.
Tickled is a must-watch, playing out more like a thriller and detective movie than a documentary, gripping you from start to finish.