Tickled (2016) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): It will tickle you – and then it will disturb you

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Documentary film “Tickled” will tickle you at first and then will disturb you a lot. While it is initially quite funny and amusing as examining an absurd but curious type of sexual fetish, the documentary subsequently delves into a very twisted case of exploitation and blackmail, and you will be amazed and horrified as watching its filmmakers’ persistent attempt to delve further into the case.

The documentary begins with when co-director David Farrier, who works as a journalist in New Zealand, came across a website promoting “competitive endurance tickling”. There were a number of video clips posted on this website, and these video clips showed young men getting tickled as, uh, competition participants, and that certainly induced lots of curiosity from Farrier, who came to decide to write an article about this bizarre competition.

The website was owned by Jane O’Brien Media Company in US, so Farrier sent an e-mail to this company, but, to his bafflement, he received rather hostile and insulting responses from a representative of this company. Along with co-director Dylan Reeve, he continued to investigate Jane O’Brien Media Company, and it soon turned out to them that there was something quite shady about this company, which happened to owned by some suspicious company in Europe.

Meanwhile, Jane O’Brien Media Company started to threaten Farrier and Reeve with the possibility of lawsuit. A letter was sent to them from some well-known lawyer in New York City, and a trio of American lawyers subsequently came to New Zealand for meeting Farrier and Reeve, but these lawyers vaguely warned Farrier and Reeve without clarifying why their client was so pissed about Farrier and Reeve’s attempt to investigate Jane O’Brien Media Company.

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Instead of stepping back, Farrier and Reeve became more determined to go further for their documentary, and we soon see them arriving in LA for more investigation. They tried to contact those young people appearing in the video clips of Jane O’Brien Media Company, but everyone except one declined to be interviewed. A lad named TJ, who is the only person agreeing to talk in front of the camera, tells us about how he was lured by money and then came to let himself tickled in front of the camera, and he also recounts on how his life was subsequently turned upside down when he happened to provoke someone in Jane O’Brien Media Company.

Meanwhile, Farrier and Reeve came to discover that there is actually a small but considerable market for tickle fetish pornography, and they met Richard Ivey, a tickle fetishist who frankly and eagerly tells us how he has been doing his naughty business for many years. At one point in the documentary, we see a place which functions as his studio, and then we come to behold how Ivey shoots his tickle fetish video along with a young hunky guy, who is willing to be tickled for more than 2 hours while manacled on a special recliner.

And then a shady figure mentioned by Ivey drew the attention of Ferrier and Reeve. Like Ivey, this figure in question was quite interested in shooting tickle fetish videos, but this person was quite mean and vicious to say the least, and two journalists, Hal Karp and Debbie Scoblionkov, tell us how this person, who was eventually exposed in public by their diligent investigation, cruelly exploited and then blackmailed many young men lured to appear in tickle fetish videos through money and expensive presents.

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However, believe or not, this person only received very light punishment in the end because of money and connection, and, as observing how much this person is similar to whoever is behind Jane O’Brien Media Company in many aspects, Ferrier and Reeve came to suspect that this person actually owns Jane O’Brien Media Company, though both its lawyers and this person’s lawyers denied that. Later in the documentary, we come to learn about how the company reached to many other places besides LA, and a young man named Jordan Schillaci, who once worked as a recruiter for the company, tells us how easy it was for the company to recruit many poor young men in his impoverished neighborhood in Michigan.

In the end, Ferrier and Reeve attempted to confront their target figure, who resided in a posh neighborhood in Long Island. Not so surprisingly, they did not get much success although they met the figure by chance, but then there came a reversal of fortune which fully exposed what this figure had been doing for several years, and we eventually arrive at a calm but revealing moment to illuminate more of this figure’s twisted sides. Not long after the documentary had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival early in 2016, Ferrier and Reeve faced again the possibility of lawsuit thanks to this person and this person’s associates, but then everything was suddenly ended due to this person’s unexpected death in the very next year.

On the whole, “Tickled” is a funny, compelling, and disturbing investigative documentary, and Ferrier and Reeve did a commendable job of presenting their stranger-than-life investigation story with considerable amusement and curiosity. Yes, I giggled and rolled my eyes as watching those absurd moments in the documentary, but then I was also chilled and disturbed by the dark sides of human nature glimpsed from the later part of the documentary, and that was surely an experience I will not forget easily.

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