Monday, April 24, 2023

The Artifice Girl, Co-Starring Lance Henriksen

Beyond the supposed jobs “Americans just won’t do” there are some jobs no human being should ever do. “Cherry” has one of those. She lures in and gathers evidence against pedophiles. Fortunately, she is not a real little girl. She is a groundbreaking artificial intelligence. Yet, as she smashes the Turing Test and skips across the Uncanny Valley, her growing self-awareness raises all sorts of ethical questions in screenwriter-director Franklin Ritch’s The Artifice Girl, which releases Thursday on-demand and in theaters.

Initially, it looks like Gareth is big trouble with Deena Helms and Amos McCollough, two agents working for an investigative agency specializing in child exploitation. They have directly benefited from the information he and Cherry have gathered, but they still fear he is abusing a child, by forcing her to conduct undercover work in internet chatrooms. Reluctantly, he reveals the truth about her.

Technically, she has no feelings, but as she learns to simulate feelings based on outside stimuli, her synthesized emotions become more and more like the real thing. In fact, as Cherry’s behavior secretly grows more human-like, Agent McCollough experiences a crisis of conscience regarding the agency’s long-term plans for her in the film’s second act. Her development will continue, leading to all sorts of third act guilt for Gareth, as he faces up to his obligations to his creation, in the twilight of his life.

Artifice Girl
might be the best science fiction film since Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and the best non-time-travel sf film since Little Joe. It is highly provocative on many levels, including its unique take, focusing on humanity’s responsibilities towards AI, rather than AI’s duties and dangers towards humanity.

Ritch takes a risky gambit by so forthrightly addressing issues of abuse. For long stretches of the film, the themes regarding the nature of awareness and the narrowing of the Uncanny Valley are much more prominent. However, the traumatic effects of past abuse are a critical factor, influencing everything that unfolds.

Stylistically, Ritch’s screenplay could have just as easily been produced as a stage play. That is a really a reflection of its intelligence, because it is all about characters and ideas rather than sound and fury. In fact, he and the small ensemble make viewers care for these characters, despite their extremes and the rapid passage of time (Cherry the AI most definitely included).

Ritch is terrific as the younger Gareth, but than craggy Lance Henriksen comes along to blow us all away as the old, conflicted Gareth. Sinda Nichols and David Girard are also both outstanding as Helms and McCollough. They start out as a sort of good cop-bad cop duo, before taking their characters in deeper, unexpected directions in the second act. Yet, there is something eerily (but not ironically) human about the performance of Tatum Matthews (from the new
Waltons TV movies) as Cherry, which is ultimately the foundation of the film’s credibility.

Artifice Girl
is truly a whip-smart film, but it still powerfully connects on an emotional level. It really works, which is why it is such a shame you probably haven’t heard more about it yet. Honestly, “Filmtwitter” and the anointed science fiction sites are just dumb herd animals, who only follow the pack. Don’t miss the boat on Artifice Girl, like they are. Highly recommended, it releases this Thursday (4/27) in theaters and on VOD.