Even if you don't fancy being tickled, you might fancy Tickled for reasons not immediately apparent.



No laughing matter


There are many documentary features around these days but few - if any - are as absorbingly odd as this one. It starts in New Zealand where a TV presenter, David Farrier, always on the lookout for bizarre material discovers online promotional publicity for what is described as a sport. What is involved here is an organisation, Jane O'Brien Media, which is willing to pay youngsters to come to America to participate in something called Competitive Endurance Tickling. The sessions will then be filmed and put out on video. Farrier and a friend, Dylan Reeve, who are  also the directors of the film, set out to investigate this strangest of notions and at this early stage you may well find that Farrier brings to mind the young Michael Moore in the days when his humour was so engaging (think Roger & Me, 1989).


However, Farrier and Reeve soon find themselves being warned off. Undeterred, they carry on and discover that past participants have also been subjected to threats of legal action and to streams of abuse. As the humour drains away, a disturbing story emerges going in directions that you would never guess, although the film does bring out the fact that being tickled while tied down can be a sexual fetish. But, if the youngsters lured into taking part are subsequently bullied in extraordinary ways by those representing Jane O'Brien Media, their initial distress is probably born more of humiliation for partaking in something so ridiculous than of sexual issues arising. Certainly no nudity is involved.


In any case Tickled, whether or not filmed on the spot or with a certain degree of reconstruction, follows the trail of Farrier and Reeves as they uncover an extraordinary story extending over years and centred ultimately on one person. The element of surprise is part of the film's appeal so I will say no more except  to add that there is a telling conclusion which, perhaps because the film is not trying for it, actually manages to reveal the culprit not just as somebody guilty of appalling behaviour but as a pathetic figure. Had Tickled continued in the vein of its opening, it might not have been able to sustain feature length, but as it is it intrigues throughout and invites comparison with the best work of Nick Broomfield.




Featuring: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, Dave Starr, Richard Ivey.


Dir David Farrier and Dylan Reeve, Pro Carthew Neal, Ph Dominic Fryer, Ed Simon Coldrick, Music Rodi Kirkcaldy and Florian Zwietnig.


New Zealand Film Commission/MPl Media Group/Magnolia Pictures/HBO Documentary Films/Fumes  and Horseshoe-StudioCanal.
92 mins. New Zealand/USA. 2016. Rel: 19 August 2016. Cert. 15.