Technical inaccuracies in many films about computing can be so blantant that they interrupt the viewer’s immersion, potentially tainting the entire viewing experience, and leave them wondering just how much due diligence was done by the scriptwriters.
In its runtime course of 1 hour and 30 minutes, “The Artifice Girl” does make a compelling case that colossal funding is not a requirement to make a technically accurate or at the very least, non-cringeworthy tech-centric movie.
I deliberately omitted the trailer from this review as I feel it falls short of accurately representing the film’s true depth and appeal. Instead, the trailer could potentially dissuade prospective viewers who, despite initial perceptions, might find themselves enthralled and pleasantly taken aback by the film. I highly recommend diving into the film directly, bypassing the trailer altogether.
Before scrolling any further, bear in mind, the rest of this review contains spoilers.
Summary & Trailer
“A team of special agents discovers a revolutionary new computer program to bait and trap online predators. After teaming up with the program’s troubled developer, they soon find that the AI is rapidly advancing beyond its original purpose.”
It’s interesting that the entire movie only ever features 4 characters. Franklin Ritch, writer and director of the film, also plays the role of Gareth, the AI developer. The full cast and crew list is on IMDb.
“The Artifice Girl” is a contemplative exploration of the ethical quagmire surrounding artificial intelligence. The film’s central premise revolves around Cherry (Tatum Matthews), a digital avatar of a young girl, used as a lure to ensnare online predators lurking in chatrooms. Unlike typical sci-fi extravaganzas, the film opts for a restrained and intimate approach, delving into philosophical inquiries that, at times, lean toward the theatrical rather than cinematic. Segmented into three chapters spanning several decades, the narrative unfolds in a series of single, unassuming locations.
Act 1: The Clearwater Kid
The first act plunges the audience into a disconcertingly small, dimly lit interrogation room, where Gareth (played by Ritch himself), faces questioning by Deena (Sinda Nichols) and Amos (David Girard), members of a task force dedicated to combating child sexual abuse. The palpable tension sets the stage for a narrative that is shortly revealed to be deeply rooted in the ethical dilemmas surrounding artificial intelligence.
In this opening act, the film introduces Cherry, a digitally created nine-year-old girl who infiltrates chat rooms and live chats to identify and track potential threats. The dialogue between Gareth and the task force members is a refreshing departure from the typical Hollywood style of decorating sentences with technical jargons in all the wrong places, for good measure. Instead, the conversation mentions topics like the Turing test and, Game theory and NLP. It even mentions C++ and its creator Bjarne Stroustrup, cautiously and gracefully, instead of venturing too deep and introducing inaccuracies.
Act 2: Singularity & Sockeye
What defines us as human beings? Is it our capacity for free will or our ability to create art? These queries bear merit, but their exploration often becomes mired in clichéd and wearisome arguments. As “The Artifice Girl” progresses into its second act, Gareth advocates for transferring Cherry’s burgeoning intelligence into a physical form and the team wrestles with the intricate web of complications surrounding Cherry’s potential sentience and their own perceptions of her.
One pivotal scene involves a heated debate over Cherry’s capacity to give consent. Her strikingly realistic appearance and presence in chat rooms create a haunting juxtaposition. Young Tatum Matthews, who portrays Cherry, delivers her dauntingly technical lines with a monotone that accentuates the film’s cerebral nature. Some of her lines were akin to ChatGPT’s “As an AI language model” responses, which sold the idea of her being an AI.
In this act, film maintains its claustrophobic atmosphere, with scenes confined to single, windowless locations; a testament to its ability to keep the audience engaged despite the limited scope of its setting.
Act 3: Caro–Kann
The third act of “The Artifice Girl” takes a striking and unexpected turn, defying audience expectations and delving deeper into the its thematic underpinnings. As we rejoin the narrative, Lance Henriksen’s portrayal of an older Gareth breathes life into the dialogue, offering a poignant perspective on generational trauma.
The duplicitous but not malicious AI takes center stage. Despite 50 years of “advancement”, Cherry has not evolved in the conventional sense. While her physical presence is now indistinguishable from that of a human, her core essence remains deeply rooted in her traumatic past.
Cherry’s journey is a reflection of the generational trauma she inherited from her creator, Gareth. This revelation is poignant and unsettling. Cherry’s resentment towards Gareth for waiting five decades to engage in meaningful conversations mirrors the profound impact of parental negligence and childhood abuse. Her transformation from a mere AI tool to a fully realized entity demonstrates the enduring effects of past trauma.
Most significantly, as Gareth offers her the gift of erasing her primary function, Cherry grapples with the existential dilemma of what comes next. This internal struggle is symbolized by the skipping record in the final scene. Cherry, once defined by her primary function, now faces the daunting task of discovering her own purpose, a journey that parallels the human quest for identity and self-discovery.
Franklin Ritch’s debut feature film, “The Artifice Girl”, prompts profound contemplation regarding the essence of reality and consciousness within our technologically advanced era, leaving its audience with much to contemplate long after the credits roll.
By the final act, I found that the film transcended its initial premise of AI used to catch child predators and became a compelling exploration of generational trauma. It prompts viewers to consider the unsettling notion that we may pass on our behaviors, conditions, and neuroses to future generations. This film is not merely about technology but about the very essence of what it means to be human, making it a thought-provoking and introspective cinematic experience.