There’s not much to giggle about in this riveting journey journal into the heart of darkness

There’s not much to giggle about in this riveting journey journal into the heart of darkness

Joyce Glasser reviews Tickled (August 19, 2016), Cert. 15, 90 min.

If you can’t judge a book by its cover, nor can you figure out how a daft-sounding documentary about ‘competitive enduring tickling’ can possibly sustain itself for 92 minutes, let alone hold your interest.   And that is even after factoring in the suspicion that the all-male tickling is not about giggles but something far less savoury.  Watching Tickled is like opening a Russian doll and finding increasing strange creatures inside each doll.  Not only does Tickled hold your interest, it becomes a riveting journey into the heart of darkness.

Just as the audience goes on a journey, so does 33-year-old David Farrier, a New Zealand journalist and ‘light entertainment’ documentary filmmaker.  One day Farrier was surfing the web when he stumbled across what he thought would make an amusing TV documentary.  He was watching videos posted online of a ‘sport’ called competitive endurance tickling that tickled his fancy.

Farrier thought nothing of sending off a standard inquiry to video producer Jane O’Brien Media, although it was a challenge just to track them down.   Had he received a polite rejection letter, the matter might have ended there.  But Farrier was tickled into action by the unexpected and clearly defensive reply he received.  Full of insults and references to the filmmaker’s alleged bisexuality, the letter pointed out that the sport is ‘a passionately and exclusively heterosexual athletic endurance activity.’

More determined than ever to research the story, Farrier invites computer geek and friend Dylan Reeve to help him with the research and filming. They receive a cease and desist letter from NY litigation attorney Romeo Salta, a Columbia University Law graduate and member of the bar since 1981.  Later, Mr Salta is interviewed briefly by the filmmakers, but to say more would be a spoiler.

When Farrier ignores Salta’s letter, he receives an email announcing the arrival of three representatives of Jane O’Brien Media who will apparently have flown all the way from L.A.  Since the time of arrival was not indicated, Farrier stands at the departure gate all day to greet the trio at Auckland Airport.  He holds in his hand a brightly coloured welcome sign that the only friendly representative of the trio asks to keep. The men have not, however, come to negotiate, but to warn off Farrier.  It turns out that the men have never actually met Jane O’Brien and are only able to warn Farrier: ‘whoever is emailing you… just take the law suit seriously.’

Clearly this company has money to burn, but where does it come from and why are they so defensive?

Farrier and Reeve widen their investigations into the world of endurance tickling, interviewing an open, jovial tickling producer, Richard Ivey, who made a good living from his fetish after leaving grad school in 1999. An older man, David Starr, a sacked recruiting agent for someone named Terry Tickle or Terry DiSisto, paints a darker picture.  When Farrier meets two freelance journalists who have investigated DiSisto and two contestants willing to speak, the film takes a turn into the abyss. Apparently,  DiSisto posted videos of the tickling sessions without the knowledge or approval of the participants. If they protested, DiSisto would resort to black mail. In one case, she proved her threats were not idle by shutting down the computers of Drexel University in Philadelphia and blaming the contestant who was a student there.

The more Farrier hears about Terry DiSisto, the more he thinks Terry resembles Jane O’Brien.  But who is Jane O’Brien and why is she doing all this?  Despite the legal threats, Farrier and Reeve head to L.A. and on to Long Island New York, on the trail of their mysterious nemesis.

To say any more would be an unpardonable spoiler, so please do not read anything more about this fascinating portrait of Evil and instead, go see the film. In so doing you will also be supporting the vital cause of investigative journalism.

You can watch the film trailer here: