The Overlook Film Festival is an innovative festival, so naturally it would include films discussing cutting edge technology. Writer and director Franklin Ritch (Teardrop Goodbye with Mandatory Directorial Commentary by Remy Von Trout) brings festival audiences his latest film, The Artifice Girl. The film follows a computer programmer who has managed to create an advance AI system in order to catch online predators. After being discovered by two special agents with the same goal, the three team up to use the AI for good, but this rapidly advancing technology takes on a life of its own.
The Artifice Girl is broken into three chapters. The first chapter shows when the three people trying to stop predators first become a team. The second chapter shows the team several years into their mission at a pivotal turning point. Then finally the third chapter shows the computer programmer as he approaches the end of his life, reflecting on whether he made the right decisions. Each chapter not only focuses on a specific moment in time for these people, but it also highlights a different issue. While the safety of children and trying to stop predators is at the forefront of the film, the ethics regarding artificial intelligence is also brought to light. If you use AI that pretends to be a child to entice predators online until you get enough information to convict them and that AI reaches the level of superintelligence and individual thought, is it still ethical to use them in this way?
Because the different topics examined in this film are very sensitive, it’s no surprise that it often evokes strong emotions. Yet certain audience members might be surprised at what draws that emotion out of them. This is a film I went into almost completely blind, only having a vague idea of the plot. By the time the credits rolled, I was an emotional wreck. I was surprised at just how deeply The Artifice Girl touched me and how easily it ripped my heart out.
The Artifice Girl primarily focuses on four characters. The first is Gareth, played by writer/director Franklin Ritch. Gareth is the programmer who created this revolutionary new AI. He has a dark past that compels him to move forward with his goal of protecting kids, but his trauma has given him trust issues and a righteous sense that he is doing what’s best. Ritch really delivers a powerful performance in this role, especially in how he makes this character appear cold and detached on the outside, but there is clearly more at work on the inside. Sinda Nichols (He Belongs to Us) plays Deena, the head of an organization attempting to track down and stop child predators. In many ways, Deena is similar to Gareth. She too is dealing with a traumatic event that has made her mission to save kids all the more determined. Yet where Gareth has stoicism, Deena has rage, and Nichols especially excels when that rage cracks Deena’s otherwise professional demeanor. David Girard (Teardrop Goodbye with Mandatory Directorial Commentary by Remy Von Trout) plays Amos, an investigator who works with Deena and a vital member of the team. Unlike the others, he has no personal past trauma to inform his decision making. Girard makes it clear to the audience that Amos is a purely good person who strives to ensure the team’s actions are ethical at every turn. Tatum Matthews (The Waltons: Homecoming) plays the AI program known as “Cherry.” At such a young age, Matthews delivers a fantastic performance as Cherry, especially when audiences see the difference between Cherry the little girl, Cherry the AI in demo mode, and Cherry when she is truly herself. As an added bonus, Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead) also makes an appearance playing the older version of Gareth. As always, his portrayal is wonderful to watch.
This is a film that manages to achieve so much with such a small budget. As previously mentioned, The Artifice Girl is broken into three chapters. Each chapter is almost entirely filmed as one scene, shot in a single room. While this is most likely a budgetary consideration, it works within the chapter formatting. Each section features a different set and shows the character at a different stage of life. This also means the film implements some subtle makeup effects and costuming to convey to the audience the passage of time between chapters.
While the production itself seems small, watching the film doesn’t reveal the low-budget as one might expect. This is mostly thanks to the writing. I don’t pretend to be an expert in AI, but I’m generally familiar with the terminology used throughout the film. Even though the The Artifice Girl is technically low-budget and doesn’t use a lot of technology, the way the characters speak about the technology sounds real and by extension makes the film seem more high tech than it really is. It’s a brilliant method of tricking the audience into seeing what the filmmaker wants them to see.
The Artifice Girl is a thought-provoking sci-fi thriller shedding a compassionate and emotional light on ethical issues. As writer, director, and star, Ritch clearly poured his heart into this film. The result is a story guaranteed to make viewers think about things in a way they never had before. It holds no punches as the plot navigates sensitive subject matter and is sure to tug and the heartstrings of audiences everywhere. Strong writing, dynamic characters, powerful performances, and smart decisions on the visual side of things only add to what makes this a truly great film. Despite The Artifice Girl‘s small budget, it leaves a big, lasting impression.
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10