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The guts of the film's plot should only be learned by watching how the story unfolds, first innocently and then in ways both disturbing and frightening. The tale of easy money, online lies and real-world pain is unbelievable in many ways, because it's better to believe it couldn't happen than to accept that what the film uncovers has gone on for decades. But it's also the story of plain and simple investigative journalism and dogged detective work, as threads are revealed, cross over themselves and build into and even deeper, more engrossing mystery. Though Tickled can be lighthearted at times, as Farrier and his team close in on the answers they are seeking, the film gets legitimately intense and suspenseful.
Now, not unlike Magnolia's documentary darling of 2015, The Wolfpack, this film has been the subject of questions about its legitimacy (mostly from some of the people at the center of its investigation.) The slick style of the production and questions about why those in the crosshairs would sign off on their involvement certainly make it easy to wonder if maybe it is a fake. (A website supposedly created by one of the involved, dedicated to exposing the filmmakers as frauds, doesn't help either.) This is the problem with documentaries today in a post-reality TV world: everything arrives with questions, and sometimes it's only the people behind and in front of the cameras that really know what happened.
While the questions about the film's veracity are hashed out in courts both legal (two suits against the filmmakers have already been dropped) and of public opinion, this documentary inadvertently lands at a time that makes it extremely topical. In watching how legal threats from all sides conspire to restrict how Farrier and company can investigate seemingly serious misdeeds, it brings to mind the lawsuits against Gawker Media, reportedly funded by a billionaire with an axe to grind. Journalism already struggles in a society that holds little respect for the unsexy truth, thanks to rich people who play upon an electorate's mistrust for intelligence. If the press can be held hostage by those who can afford the lawyers and their bills, the public won't be able to afford to find out the truth.
Whether the story revealed in Tickled is the truth or an elaborate hoax, you'll be able to build your own conclusion in the end, particularly since much of the story is a matter of public record (but don't ruin it for yourself by searching before watching.) And whether it's truth or fiction, it serves notice that Farrier knows how to tell a truly gripping story (even more so if it's not true.) The only issue is the ending, as, following a late-game deus ex machina that feels unfortunately coincidental, the pay-off simply doesn't deliver to the level of satisfaction the rest of the film feels like it's building to. (This may be the biggest proof that it is true, since a fictional work would have a better finale.) No matter what you believe though, you have definitely never seen anything like this before.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.