Take the red pill, stay in Wonderland, and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes in this year’s answer to Catfish – a journey that starts off seemingly innocent but rapidly dives into surprising and disturbing new realms.

David Farrier’s job is documenting pop culture and strange behavior, and when he stumbles upon a YouTube video about competitive endurance tickling, he can’t resist. But when he begins to investigate, he’s met with vicious, personally insulting emails from the sport’s organizers. Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve set off on a journey to find out what’s at the heart of this bizarre phenomenon.

What surprises most about Tickled is how unexpectedly dark it becomes – while we’re not talking murder and mayhem, the truth is not far off, and there’s certainly more to the world of tickling than you may have thought possible. Farrier and Reeve investigate the world of fetishism, how competitive tickling has affected the lives of its participants, and the disturbing origin of the sport. Like being tickled, it all starts off harmless and funny, but becomes more uncomfortable – and even alarming – the longer it continues.

Throughout, Farrier displays a journalistic integrity that goes above and beyond. He and Reeve face threats legal and physical, and both weather the storm in order to see the truth uncovered. Their bravery and cordiality in taking on adversarial subjects is laudable, given just how personal their detractors get.

Dominic Fryer’s cinematography is the defining factor, giving the film a sheen of professionalism and hyper-modern currency. While the directors are off scouting out places to catch a mark in public, Fryer is in the snow capturing slow motion footage of hawks hunting prey, while editor Simon Coldrick lends poetic weight and space to Fryer’s lensing.

The dust is not settled when the credits roll, and dissatisfaction with the narrative’s ‘end’ lingers. The danger of a documentary concept with legal ramifications and no concrete conclusion are that its final act falls away – we’re given so much new information, but we are not given justice or catharsis.

To say any more is to spoil the twists and turns of the narrative, and just as the marketing promises, you won’t see them coming. Farrier is the perfect cypher for such explorations, always curious and unwilling to judge; how effortlessly this genial character must have secured a producer in Stephen Fry.

Delving into fetish, fraud and felony with boundless curiosity, Tickled’s riveting journey into villainy is another triumph for the documentary form.

Tickledopens in cinemas on Thursday August 18.

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