Some of the most memorable documentaries in film history deal with the unearthing of dark and disturbing true stories that would have remained secret if not for the bravery and determination of the filmmakers themselves.
Such is the case in the 2016 smash-hit documentary Tickled, where directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve uncovered the dark world "competitive endurance tickling," and the man responsible for paying, blackmailing, and harassing the young men who were unfortunate enough to become wrapped up in his game. The truth behind the global scheme and the lengths Farrier and Reeve were willing to go to to find the truth make Tickled the most intense movie on HBO right now.
*Spoiler Alert: You are about to find out way more about the world of tickling than you you ever thought you would, so if you haven't watched the documentary yet, get ready.*
Read on to learn more about what makes this controversial documentary a must watch.
The film opens with Farrier explaining how he came across a video of "competitive endurance tickling" in his routine search for new stories to cover for his job as a New Zealand television reporter.
During his explanation, we get our first glimpse at the tickling, as multiple young men tickle one individual who is strapped down by his wrists and ankles. While it may seem funny at first, as the video continues it becomes uncomfortable, even downright disturbing - a perfect roadmap for where the rest of this messed up documentary will go.
The video, understandably, piques Farrier's interest, so he decides to reach out to Jane O'Brien Media, the company that is seemingly responsible for the videos.
However, instead of receiving a simple yes or no, he receives homophobic attacks as a response. "To be brutally frank," the initial response says, "association with a homosexual journalist is not something that [we] will embrace. We desperately do not want a homosexual participant base applying for this project." The messages didn't stop there, as Farrier continued to receive homophobic and threatening emails for the following weeks.
While many would have stopped there, realizing that they are likely dealing with someone who is at best a homophobe, and at worst mentally ill, Farrier pushes ahead.
Eventually, Jane O'Brien Media sends three men to New Zealand on first-class flights from Los Angeles to confront Farrier. After they become visibly upset about the fact that Farrier and Reeve are filming, they request a closed-door meeting.
Luckily, Farrier wore a mic, and recorded this chilling and cryptic threat: "If you want to stick your head in a blast furnace, do it." This face-to-face meeting only makes the story more intense, as it becomes clear just how far the shadowy figure behind the videos is willing to go to remain anonymous and unbothered.
As the threats continue, Farrier and Reeve meet with one of the few young men who were willing to speak about their experiences, TJ Gretzner.
It becomes clear rather quickly that TJ had been lied to and taken advantage of in order to get him involved in this tickling-venture. And once he decided to take action to get the videos offline his entire life began to fall apart.
"All hell broke loose," he explains. "Every kind of video search you could find, it was up there." TJ continues, "'Your family better watch out because we're going to put your family to shame," he recounted one email saying, "Direct threats."