Review: A movie that accomplishes so much with so little, The Artifice Girl announces Franklin Ritch as a director to watch for in the future. The film works through three separate timelines, fastened together by a thoughtful story about artificial intelligence.
The Artifice Girl achieves so much with such a concise script. It’s a great screenplay, really, as it easily could’ve been adapted into a play rather than a movie. It’s essentially three finely cut acts, each with their own sets and distinct terms.
And the dialogue drives the narrative on its own, carrying the stakes of the future of artificial intelligence stemming from a secretive operation meant to identify predators in the child trafficking underground. The artificial intelligence is smart and adaptive, able to change course on a dime if the situation is right, or if the nameless figure on the other side of the screen is beginning to suspect that something is up.
That’s at least what we learn during the first interaction in The Artifice Girl, which extends through the first act of the movie’s runtime. Gareth (Franklin Ritch, who serves as director and a supporting actor) is brought in for some minor questioning (Where have you previously worked? What do you do in your free time?). The usual questions you’d see in a low stakes criminal drama on TV where the interrogators attempt to soften up the perp.
Detectives Deena and Amos (Sinda Nichols and David Girard, respectively) learn quickly that Gareth isn’t who they think he is, and that the girl he’s used to identify traffickers isn’t really a girl at all – she’s an artificial intelligence program codenamed Cherry (and played by Tatum Matthews). This blows the minds of the two detectives, while pulling back the blanket for the audience.
The next two acts play through in the future, at a time when Gareth has allowed government interaction to help perfect the tasks of Cherry. The second set piece plays much like the first, this time causing a rift between the three characters as Amos denounces a corporate merger with another company because he believes Cherry is improving on her own design and developing emotions.
This engineers the movie’s lone violent and destructive moment when Amos attacks Gareth in an attempt to draw out the A.I.’s feelings. She laments this attempt and pleads with Amos to stop, protecting Gareth and exposing her ability to feel pain for others.
There have been a large number of great A.I. movies, but few successfully work this effortlessly to show the steps in artificial intelligence learning on its own. The Artifice Girl is a lean movie, using tension points to slowly bubble until their release. The first act has such promising intrigue, and the second capitalizes on the positives in artificial intelligence in order to plant the seeds of possible pitfalls later on.
And then the third act shifts gears, swapping the beige closets and office spaces for Gareth’s house decades into the future. At this point, Cherry has been improved to the point of assimilation into the physical world – jumping from in the screen to in front of the screen. She’s still clearly an artificial lifeform judging by the zip tied bundle of chords stemming from her back that follow her wherever she goes.
The approach is much more philosophical this time around, turning the tables on Gareth as he struggles to justify his own creation of the intelligence. We learn that Gareth spent time being held captive by abusers at an unknown location named Clearwater. While we were made to believe that Gareth built Cherry from face recognition patterns, we learn that’s not the case and that he mimicked her from the friend he had while being imprisoned.
Cherry’s inspiration, Maria, died while the police raided the house owned by the abusers. To deal with his grief, Gareth created Cherry to help free children around the world, while still having someone to interact with in his personal life.
The tone shifts ever so slightly here, opting for a much more open ended spin that ditches the science fiction motifs built through the first two legs of the movie. It doesn’t fully realize the weight of its own questions, like the morality of bringing A.I. into the physical world while not knowing the emotional toll at may take on others – instead opting for a well-choreographed dance scene that caps off the film but doesn’t answer much.
Reviews for Movies like The Artifice Girl
Gareth ultimately alters Cherry’s code, using the source code to let her free and experience the world on her own terms. The Artifice Girl ends light, allowing the viewer to feel more optimistic than pessimistic about the future of technology like this.
Franklin Ritch’s direction and script stand out here, instilling in The Artifice Girl a sense of mystique and moral ambiguity. We get just enough information in each act to make out conflict, but not too much to jump one step ahead. I read a short version of the premise before going in, and just by doing that I felt like I did the film a disservice. It’s a good movie to know nothing about beforehand.
It’s clean and simple, allowing engaging and concise design to win over. The rooms and costuming aren’t flashy by any means, but they feel just staged enough to get a sense of place – the second act plays in a closet-like office similar to the first, only this time it’s littered with sticky notes and whiteboards overflowing with content. You can feel the passage of time through these sets, which ultimately serves as their main purpose aside from the TV screen that houses the Cherry program.
The performances are managed really well across the board. Sinda Nichols and David Girard play well against one another, the former feeling shellshocked about the endless possibilities of using A.I. to help societal problems, while the latter approaches Cherry in a much more cynical way, as if growing up watching the likes of RoboCop and Terminator – that all artificial intelligence eventually leads to doom.
It’s a sharp debut film from Franklin Ritch, managing to stay engaging without being explosive (assuming because of a limited budget). The Artifice Girl may be the first movie from Ritch, but it certainly won’t be the last. I expect many more projects from him in the future.
Where to stream The Artifice Girl: Tubi, VOD
Film Cast and Credits
Tatum Matthews as Cherry
David Girard as Amos
Sinda Nichols as Deena
Franklin Ritch as Gareth (Acts 1 & 2)
Lance Henriksen as Gareth (Act 3)
Director: Franklin Ritch
Writer: Franklin Ritch
Cinematography: Britt McTammany
Editor: Franklin Ritch
Composer: Alex Cuervo
The Artifice Girl movie on Letterboxd
The Artifice Girl movie on IMDb