Tickled (David Farrier/Dylan Reeve, 2016, New Zealand)

            David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s 2016 documentary Tickled is best watched without any prior knowledge of the subject matter. David Farrier, whose style is akin to Louis Theroux’s, leads us into the world of “competitive endurance tickling” competitions with the belief that it will be a zany story. When he begins receiving harassing and homophobic emails as well as cease and desist letters from a company called “Jane O’Brien Media”, it becomes clear that this story will be even weirder than we initially anticipated.
            Farrier manages to lead us down a rabbit hole that is continually surprising throughout, starting from a point of mild amusement to a finale of downright disturbing revelations. Farrier’s trip to Los Angeles, where the Jane O’Brien videos are filmed, involves a confrontation at the company’s studio that has the tension of a thriller. When Farrier uncovers another ring of competitive tickling videos operating from Michigan, which is connected to rings of tickling competition videos around the globe, the bizarreness of the story becomes truly apparent.
            While other films like Catfish have attempted to show how the anonymity of the Internet can profoundly impact people’s lives, the twisted web of money, deceit, and threats behind Tickled does so in a much more compelling and effective way. 20+ years before trolling was a mainstream word, people were having their lives ruined on the Internet by the central figure of Tickled. Farrier and Reeve’s attempt to expose the man behind Jane O’Brien media – who has seemingly gotten away with continuing his cycle of abuse, harassment, and doxxing unabated in the Internet age – does bring a sense of fulfillment.
            The film is also admirable in Farrier and Reeve’s unwillingness to back down in the face of increasing legal threats from the subject of their documentary. Tickled does capture the danger behind the whole endeavor successfully.


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