What does it mean to play God in the era of artificial intelligence? Does the creation of a new technology mean we know own its future direction? The Artifice Girl, from director and writer Franklin Ritch, examines these questions over three acts. While the film could easily adapt to the stage, the moral questions become extremely interesting when placed in a visual medium like film.

In an interrogation room, Gareth (Franklin Ritch/Lance Henriksen) gets pressured by agents Deena (Sinda Nichols) and Amos (David Girard). They believe he’s guilty of unsavory dealings on the internet, but Gareth quickly shows them he did nothing wrong. In fact, he created an incredible source of artificial intelligence: a seemingly young girl named Cherry (Tatum Matthews). Over decades, Gareth and Cherry bring those looking to hurt children to justice.

Ritch dives deep into the ethical quandaries of AI within the first few minutes of introducing Cherry. Where AI goes as humans evolve will open significant ethical and moral dilemmas. The evolution of stories coming out of the ChatGPT and BING AI have already created some truly questionable aspects of the technology. Yet what do we do when the AI continues to grow independently without telling its creators?

Questions about AI evolving beyond human intelligence also mean that it may one day develop its own thoughts and feelings. The Artifice Girl tries to reckon with that aspect, and with AI not worrying about a human body as a host, it may live forever. How much control do we have over sentience that can outlive us by millennia?

In many ways, The Artifice Girl is a perfect film for SXSW. The blending of technology, art, and creativity to solve real-world problems helps the story resonate. In addition, Ritch’s direction allows us to feel the emotional power of the journey, even as decades pass in the blink of an eye. This setup may be how AI experiences its life in many ways, narrowing its vision to a few key moments.

The three-act structure helps to address critical moments in life while paving a path forward. These ideas are not unique to AI but to humans. Our birth, our continued growth, and the eventual deaths of our parents all affect us in some manner. The lessons that Cherry learns over time from each of her contributing “parents” help illuminate a way forward for her in the future. The writing from Ritch sells the structure and gives us an understanding of why these moments matter.

The performances of the core four characters often default to the emotional moments they’re asked to understand. Still, they serve the larger story well. The combination of Ritch and Henriksen works well in tandem to explain Gareth’s worldview. As a performer, Ritch does a great job showing arrogance, and Henricksen picks it up decades later. Yet with Henricksen, there’s a weariness and regret that’s impossible to shake. Nichols and Girard deliver their very emotional beats, especially in Act 2. They convince us of their mission early, and their steadfast devotion to their ethics becomes evident in Act 1 before their world changes.

The only downside of the structure is a feeling of claustrophobia that rests over the film. In act one, this intentional choice is perfect, given the setup. However, acts two and three could have provided a slightly larger vision of the world. As a result, the story could have transcended the play-like aesthetic it takes in those acts, making the story more cinematic. Whether this is a budget issue or a control issue is one the directors and producers can answer, but it ultimately shifts the perspective in those final acts.

The Artifice Girl asks big questions, and recent events have ensured it’s only a matter of time before we see this premise in real life. This speaks to Ritch’s ability to see what’s coming in the world of technology, a huge asset for anyone working in futuristic and sci-fi filmmaking. The Artifice Girl stands to grow more relevant every day, and the questions it asks are evergreen. It’s quite an accomplishment and should be treated as such.

Alan’s Rating: 8/10

What did you think of The Artifice Girl? Let us know in the comments below! Catch The Artifice Girl at SXSW 2023.

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