Laughter turns creepy in Tickled — a film review

July 14, 2016

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The internet is filled with weirdos. In Tickled, all the dangers of those weirdos that your mother or grandmother warned you about come true. In this bizarre, true story, New Zealand TV reporter David Farrier digs deeper than he should into the extreme sport of competitive tickling. He finds hundreds of videos online featuring young men tickling each other while wearing athletic gear. The phenomenon piques David’s curiosity so much so that he decides to investigate further.

With the premise of a good story, Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve embark upon a quest that turns dark early on. It turns out that an American company, called Jane O’Brien Media, put out many of the videos under “competitive tickling.” The company was also putting out casting calls with deals too good to be true, like airfare to the U.S. and payment $1,500. Some of the contestants participating in videos of these tournaments were paid to just audition. The casting calls turned out to be placed in areas where poverty is widespread, making young applicants inclined to turn a blind eye to the odd request.

As any journalist would, Farrier decided to contact the company to inquire further. What follows is so strange, it would be unbelievable, were we not bearing witness to it. With his inquiry to the sport to Jane O’Brien Media, Farrier, an entertainment reporter inclined to cover weird, human interest pieces for New Zealand TV, immediately receives a series of aggressive, bullying email responses from the company demanding he drop his inquiry. Curiosity coupled with anger against the bullying, only inspire Farrier to investigate this company further. Lo and behold, he finds that there is a complicated web of internet domain sites associated with tickling and the majority of them happen to be part of Jane O’Brien Media.tickled__2016_247

The investigation takes so many twists and turns it will have viewers at the edge of their seat. It also showcases the strange nature of these videos, wherein tickling is more than about playful giggles. The sexual implication of some of these videos suggests that there maybe something more to the structure and the purpose of those designing and enjoying these videos. The overall tone of the documentary is reminiscent of a “Catfish” episode, spiced up with lawsuits and threats over email and via phone.

The tone of the investigation, and indeed of the documentary, is one of direct confrontation and approach. This tone is what gets the filmmakers past the fun and games of tickling into digging up the truth about what the real motivation behind the videos. This is a straightforward documentary, with time moving in a linear fashion, and short on creative editing or storytelling but propelled by a sense of mystery. The story, weird enough in itself is one that gets told through a low-budget, low-brow manner, suitable for a special on cable TV. But even though it’s not a masterpiece, Tickled is certainly entertaining and opens the door to questioning an array moral notions. From authorship to the rights of those who appear on videos or photos that may be easily spread on the internet to bullying and how far domination fetishes can go. These are all topics that certainly deserve thoughtful conversation.

Ana Morgenstern

Tickled runs 92 minutes and is rated R. It opens in our South Florida area in Miami at O Cinema Wynwood and in Fort Lauderdale at the Gateway 4 this Friday, July 15. For screenings nationwide, click here. Magnolia Pictures provided a screener link for the purpose of this review as well all images in this post.

(Copyright 2016 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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