Published on October 8th, 2016 | by Dan Gvozden



When famous New Zealand documentarian David Farrier discovered a YouTube video about “competitive endurance tickling,” he had no idea that this seemingly innocuous and quite comical subculture would go on to be more than just the focus of one show. Yes, competitive tickling does exist, often to titillate those with a tickling fetish, but in Farrier’s new film Tickled, he begins to pull on a loose thread and instead of unraveling the sweater, he finds himself tangled in the strings, unable to escape.

You see, tickling, especially when recorded on camera, isn’t just a laughing matter; no one can argue that it isn’t initially hilarious. When Farrier contacts Jane O’Brein Media, the company that organizes filmed competitive tickling events in Los Angeles, he receives an unusual number of threats and homophobic attacks that only fuel his suspicions that something else is may be going on at the mysterious company.

That’s when he recruits fellow first-time director Dylan Reeve to help him investigate the digital trail of the business, which eventually leads them to being on the receiving end of several lawsuits, physical threats, cyberbullying attacks, character assassination attempts, and backroom shakedowns.

Jane O’Brien Media isn’t what it seems, even if what it already seems to be is ridiculous. The videos contain footage wherein several attractive young men straddle a young man, who is strapped down to a mat by his ankles and wrists, and proceed to tickle him for several uninterrupted minutes. Eventually, these videos begin to be used as blackmail against the participants, but the who and the why of it all grows increasingly complex the deeper the two filmmakers probe.

Their undercover investigation leads them all around the world, from New Zealand to Wall Street to Los Angeles to Miami to New Zealand and back again. With each new twist and each fresh threat, the two men combat their fear with a dry sense of humor and incredible preparedness that allows them to call their enemies’ bluffs.

The filmmaking, by a rotating team of cameramen led by cinematographer Dominic Fryer, is intimate or analytical when necessary, but it is never more exciting than when it gives audiences a firsthand perspective from hidden cameras, van stakeouts or a cleverly placed angle that allows the filmmakers to legally film a “confidential” meeting.

Indie film fans will recognize the appropriately unnerving music by Shane Carruth (Primer, Upstream Color) that builds as the film becomes more and more sinister. There’s a definite sense here that every player involved in creating Tickled was determined to get to the bottom of this story no matter the cost or legal fees. A four-day-long stakeout outside a villain’s presumed residence, all for a 30-second confrontation, is one of the most tense film sequences this year.

Just like tickling, Tickled starts out funny and continues until no one is laughing anymore. The secrets behind the competitive tickling industry and Jane O’Brein Media have to be seen to be believed, and considering that the angry subjects of the film have been appearing at screenings of the film in Los Angeles to instigate arguments with the filmmakers suggests that this story is far from over.

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About the Author

Do you remember that dorky kid from elementary school who loved movies and comic books? Dan's him, but an adult... well in most senses of the word. All that matters is that he's an aficionado of all things pop culture and wants to share his interests with the world.

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