Synopsis: 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.
Stars: Tatum Matthews, David Girard, Sinda Nichols, Franklin Ritch, Lance Henriksen
Director: Franklin Ritch
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: It took a while to get here, but we’re all on a rickety rollercoaster that has chugged up a long mountain and sits at the top of a perilous drop. Crane your neck to look behind, and you see a past littered with used-up pencils, pens, typewriters, word processors, and clunky laptops. Dare to peek over the edge, and you may glimpse the shiny gleam of the future with cutting-edge technology-producing bot scribes that could do much of the writing we’re all doing now. Just as evolution in industry has put the factory workers of yesterday out of work and looking for new jobs, so have advances in the tech realm started to suggest that computer button pushers and bloggers better watch their backs, too.
That’s one reason why a film like The Artifice Girl could be classified as a true futuristic horror film if you were so inclined, though it works just fine as the (s)low-boil drama it is. Not as mysterious or thrilling as you may be led to believe, it’s nonetheless remarkably on trend and will curl its uncomforting grip around you for 90 well-made minutes. On the surface, it’s a film about a power triangle between a creator, creation, and an entity wanting to control them both. Dig deeper, and you’ll see that it’s speaking to how we treat humans no better than the gadgets we regard as commodities that serve only our needs.
Gareth (writer/director Franklin Ritch) has been brought in for questioning by Deena (Sindra Nichols) and Amos (David Girard) to determine the level of his involvement with Cherry (Tatum Matthews), a nine-year-old girl used to lure in online predators. Initially, they present themselves as concerned over the well-being of the young girl, but the longer they question Gareth, the harder it is for him to conceal the truth he has been hiding. Cherry isn’t real at all, but an advanced form of AI he has created. A fully realized program that can infiltrate nefarious corners of the darkest parts of the web without endangering (or scarring) a real child, Cherry has been designed to be nimble, forthright, and logical. That makes her (and Gareth) incredibly valuable to the work Deena and Amos are doing about protection in a rapidly changing online environment.
Ritch divides his film into three segments, and while I won’t spoil how the next two build upon this first meeting, I will say that it demonstrates a skilled trust in the audience to go along with a ride that isn’t in any hurry to get to its point. That turns out to be just fine because even if Ritch’s dialogue is occasionally ponderingly rinky-dink and can come off as talking down to the viewer (at one point, Gareth refers to Cherry as A.I. and Amos responds, “Oh, Artificial Intelligence.”), it’s delivered with deep conviction by a solid company. Especially good is Nichols as a character that gets more complicated/complex the further we get to know her and Matthews, who produces admirable nuance even though you mostly see her from the shoulders up on a screen.
I liked that Ritch attempts to bring some emotional ties to The Artifice Girl, giving a late-appearing Lance Henriksen (Color of Night) some interesting strings to tie off. For a small indie like this, which obviously was filmed quickly and on several of the same sets redressed to look like different locations, it looks much nicer than similar projects with quadruple the budget. It does leave you with a pointed message about where our future technology is likely heading but no real answers on what to do while we wait. I could easily see this being a nice word-of-mouth hit, that one film you hear enough about that you’re compelled to watch after enough friends tell you they liked it. Don’t wait; give it a chance now.
THE ARTIFICE GIRL is now in Theaters, On Demand and Digital