Fantasia 2022: THE ARTIFICE GIRL — a Very Human Story of Artificial Intelligence

A positive and hopeful take on technology

With all this news of AIs, whether they’re gaining sentience at Google or putting Godzilla and Daniel Day Lewis in a pumpkin patch on Instagram, Franklin Ritch’s The Artifice Girl, is as relevant and topical as ever. The film is a powerful look at just what the evolution of an AI might look like from a very intimate perspective. As the film begins we are introduced to an online vigilante, Garreth (Director/Writer Franklin Ritch), who, with a background in movie CGI and scripting, has birthed the ultimate weapon in the war against online child predators — a photo-realistic AI that looks like a 10 year-old girl. While she interacts with predators, her prime directive has her also gathering evidence to send to the authorities to prosecute them. When Garreth is brought in by a government organization looking out for the well being of the young girl they believe he uses as bait, we quickly learn that “Cherry”, in a fun nod to Cherry 2000, is much more than she seems.

The film uses its three chapter structure to give us a glimpse of Cherry’s development through the span of Garreth’s life as he witnesses his creation gain the full support of the government, imbuing Cherry with unlimited resources in her mission to save children. When Garreth’s project is taken in, Cherry gains two more stewards in special agents Amos McCullough (David Girard) and Dena Helms (Sinda Nichols) who both offer their own profound points of view on the morality of this experiment. At times the film feels almost like a stage play as the wordy scenes play out with the actors verbally sparring with such heavy concepts as: can an AI give consent? and what actually differentiates human feelings from simulated ones? It’s a densely layered deep dive that truly understands these concepts as it’s trying to deconstruct them. The narrative engine here is one that feels more practical and plausible given the reason Cherry is created, since she starts off as a tool, but continues to grow over time.

The character of Cherry is brought to life by real life child actress Tatum Matthews, who competently holds her own here with such sci-fi icons as Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Sinda Nichols (Bubblegum Crisis), investing you in her partnership with humanity. Sure it’s stunt casting, but it’s used to great effect here. Not wanting to give too much away, the story is one of betrayal, growth and regret with a bittersweet and very human spin on this story that sidesteps the fear mongering this subject is understandably met with. Franklin Ritch perfectly maneuvers within the confines of his budget limitations to tell a high concept story on an indie budget. This is thanks to the writing and his ensemble, who are surprisingly limber in their performances, but because of their complexity of character you never quite know where everyone resides. The Artifice Girl is a masterful exercise in “what if”, that gives a positive and hopeful take on technology.

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