Review by Sean Boelman
The Artifice Girl made a pretty big splash at Fantasia last year, and is just now reappearing on the spring circuit, with appearances at SXSW and Overlook. The indie sci-fi drama is one of the more unique films you will see this year, and deals with a topic that has been the subject of much discussion recently, making it a movie that you won’t want to miss.
The film follows a team of special agents who use a revolutionary new computer program to trap child predators, only to discover that its capabilities may far exceed what they ever could have imagined. Many people have made the obvious Black Mirror and Twilight Zone comparisons, and it is understandable why considering its high-concept sci-fi premise.
Obviously, when dealing with a concept as technologically complex as artificial intelligence, writing dialogue is difficult. There is an intricate balance to be struck between being understandable and over-explained, and Ritch’s script largely succeeds in this regard. However, it is still filled with jargon in a way that may make it inaccessible for general audiences.
The movie is structured around three conversations that happen in three different time periods. Unfortunately, each of the acts is less gripping than the previous. Although the second and third acts ask some interesting questions, none of the film is as successful as the initial intrigue of the concept’s novelty in the movie’s introduction.
The first third is very exciting and thrilling because it plays out like an interrogation. Viewers won’t know exactly what is happening, and when the film eventually reveals its cards, they will find themselves experiencing a feeling of awe and wonder. The rest of the movie chases this feeling and never quite catches it.
Even if the film isn’t always successful at the process of asking them, the questions it asks about AI are fascinating and more timely than ever given the increasingly large role that artificial intelligence is beginning to play in our society today. For the most part, it doesn’t feel like science fiction because it largely refuses to speculate — instead commenting on the real issues that we face with the use of AI today.
The movie also boasts some impressive performances. For the most part, the film is a three-hander between Franklin Ritch, David Girard, and Sinda Nichols — all of whom are gripping in their roles. There is also Tatum Matthews, who is convincing and surprisingly nuanced as the face and voice of the AI, and Lance Henriksen, who is strong in the third act, playing an older version of Ritch’s character.
The Artifice Girl starts off extraordinarily well, and while it isn’t able to maintain this momentum throughout its entire runtime, there is no denying that it is an intriguing work of genre cinema. Franklin Ritch is clearly an exciting and talented new mind in cinema, and it will be exciting to see what he does next.
The Artifice Girl screened at the 2023 Overlook Film Festival, which ran March 30-April 2 in New Orleans, LA.