Review: Tickled (2016)


© Magnolia Pictures

© Magnolia Pictures

In today's cinematic climate, movie trailers have been whittled down to two categories: teasers, which give you little to no information; and full trailers, which give away entire plots and climactic moments. Sadly, it seems as though the gray area between those two ends of the spectrum has started to dissolve away, leaving us with a multitude of previews that don't necessarily entice us to the theater. In rare moments, however, a production company will put forth a trailer that actually inspires us to see a film without taking away from the full experience, and it is in these moments that we can find true gems of film. 

I was recently struck by such a trailer for a little documentary focusing on something called "Competitive Endurance Tickling." The few scenes I saw instantly piqued my interest, and I knew immediately that I had to do whatever I could to see the film. I searched high and low looking for a theater playing it, and when I finally found one and had the opportunity, I strapped in for an experience I'm not sure I was quite ready to have. 

Tickled follows David Farrier, a New Zealand journalist who specializes in reporting about pop culture as well as the strange and out-of-the-ordinary, as he delves into the online world of the aforementioned tickling sensation. After discovering a series of videos produced by an entity known as Jane O'Brien Media, Farrier attempts to contact the company in the hopes of using the concept as his next story. Instead, he is met with violent backlash as the group begins to slander him and threaten to take legal action should he continue his pursuit of information. Spurred by intrigue, fear, and flat-out curiosity, David and his friend Dylan Reeve soon find themselves down the rabbit hole as they try to zero in on the true origins of Jane O'Brien Media as well as the larger niche of competitive endurance tickling. 

Everything I've just stated happens in the first ten minutes of the film, but it's the subsequent eighty minutes that are going to stick with me for quite some time. If you're in the mood for a light-hearted romp into a bizarre corner of the Internet experience, Tickled might not be for you. It may start with a goofy premise - I mean, it's about a bunch of straight guys who get paid to tickle each other on camera - but Tickled very quickly turns down a dark (albeit not entirely unknown) alley. It's also a difficult film to discuss in that I want to be sure I tread very carefully, keeping myself from revealing anything you shouldn't know going into the film. 

It comes as no surprise that HBO played a part in the creation of this film because it left me with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I haven't felt since seeing Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. I won't go so far as to say that Tickled ranks quite that highly, but this is a taut and engaging documentary that's going to grip you and keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. I sat in the theater with my jaw agape for most of the film, puzzled and shocked at nearly every twist and turn. Tickled is uncomfortable in all the right ways, and in a way, it serves as a very clever mystery thriller that would stand up next to general scripted fare. Farrier and Reeve do well in crafting a subtly changing tone that builds throughout the film, adding an impending sense of dread the further we head down this rabbit hole with them. In a world where so many documentaries are contemporary pieces that fill a need in the here and now, Tickled proves to be one that should stand the test of time and continue to appall audiences no matter when they watch. Let's just hope this thing can get some legs.