The Hollywood Reporter's suggestion that

Tickled

is the new

Catfish

does the former no favours at all.

Unlike the cynical 2010 film, whose manipulations are no less loathsome if it was all a hoax, Tickled takes a far odder true story and plays it dead straight.

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That's a credit to the instigator, David Farrier, who specialised in outre, stranger-than-fiction yarns when he was at TV3. Following the flimsiest of leads, he climbed into a story you would never buy if it was fiction, and emerged at Sundance to land a US theatrical and cable deal.

David Farrier in a scene from his documentary Tickled.
David Farrier in a scene from his documentary Tickled.

The initial hook, in a pop-up ad for "competitive endurance tickling", led to a website (still in operation at

) that sought participants in a "high-paying reality video" project.

The project billed itself as "bizarre and interesting", which Farrier took at face value but when his first inquiry generated a virulently homophobic response, he was hooked.

The email said Farrier's sexual orientation had "caused a stir" in this country, (like me, you may have missed this) and Farrier, not unreasonably, wondered why an outfit making what he calls "pretty gay" films of men on mattresses tickling other, bound men, would be so exercised by the sexual orientation of a New Zealand journalist.

David Farrier in a scene from his documentary Tickled.
David Farrier in a scene from his documentary Tickled.

Thus Farrier and co-director Reeve stepped through a pop-culture looking glass into a world where people who thought better of their involvement were harassed and bullied in person and, far more malevolently, in comprehensive online campaigns.

It's not hard to find out online where the trail leads, but don't: getting there is a lot more than half the fun. Like much of what happens in cyberspace, the denouement is banal and even sad, but the film is engrossing.

Tickled

may be, in essence, a cautionary tale of what happens when someone has too much money and bandwidth and not enough supervision. But it's also a fascinating detective story that comes highly recommended.

Review: Tickled

Director: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
Running time: 91 mins
Rating: M (offensive language, sexual themes)
Verdict: You couldn't make this up.