“How do you know if you’re doing the right thing?”
An internet program that can lure and catch pedophiles evolves it’s way into a walking-talking humanesque girl in writer/director Franklin Ritch’s The Artifice Girl. It’s a premise that might seem like something out of Black Mirror or a Philip K. Dick short story, ripe with rich themes to contemplate and discuss about our own world and the part that the quickly evolving artificial intelligence will play.
Split into three sections throughout many decades including present, not-too-distant future and the far off future, we experience the impact that A.I. makes in each of these characters lives. The first section of the film starts as a classic techno thriller set-up where a mysterious government agency are having words with a person they found on the internet. It’s as familiar a set-up as the cat and mouse crime of the week on any number of TV shows but with a twist. The man in the room being questioned has not committed the crime they are suggesting. In fact quite the opposite. Gareth (Franklin Ritch), whose background was working with A.I. in movies, they dance around he was the one who did deaging effects in Star Wars, has taken that technology to the next level. He’s created an A.I. program that can, in real-time, chat with users and make decisions to lure potential predators on the internet.
The agents discuss the exciting possibilities that this can bring to their agency. It’s life-like and real time dialogue is a game changer for them. However, Amos McCullough (David Girard) has his concerns if it is even ethical to which his partner mocks saying that Cherry (Tatum Matthews) is a program, it has no feelings.
The second section catches up with the same three people some fifteen years later, with Gareth now working alongside the two agents and Cherry ever developed further and may have unknowingly become sentient. They question to themselves what their moral obligation is to Cherry and to the greater world if that were to be the case.
Finally, in the distant future, we are presented with a new location and a conversation between Cherry and Gareth, now played by veteran Lance Henriksen. We learn throughout the years how things have changed between them and the world because of what Cherry is. It’s an emotional sequence between creator and the created.
The film is in conversation with the audience at all times. Planting more and more questions and ideas in each segment in what is surely a very wordy screenplay but kept light with the incredible sets and strong acting by the four actors. What is our responsibility as humans as we continue into our own future where artificial intelligence will one day outsmart us?
While the play like structure and heavily dialogue fueled screenplay might be too much for some viewers, those looking for something along the lines of Primer will have a new lo-fi intelligent film for their digital library. The Artifice Girl gives us a wonderful debut film from Franklin Ritch that will have audiences sitting down for conversation after the credits roll.
SXSW 2023: ‘The Artifice Girl’ Questions the Ever Evolving Role of A.I.