Low-budget, high-concept sci-fi does not get much better than THE ARTIFICE GIRL. Using a photorealistic AI avatar of a young girl, a man ensnares online predators and hands them over to the authorities. Across multiple acts, the film plays out like a fly on the wall, as a small team of special agents discusses the morality of using advanced technology for such a purpose. As they do so, the youthful face of Cherry – the AI played by Tatum Matthews – watches from a TV screen and waits for orders.
Starring, written, and directed by Franklin Ritch, THE ARTIFICE GIRL is a genre film with an emotional heart and a philosophical mind. The team of Gareth (Ritch), Amos (David Girard) and Deena (Linda Nichols) tie themselves in knots looking for the right thing to do. Unable to tell Cherry apart from a real girl, Amos can’t help but ask: has anyone ever wondered how she – it? – feels about acting as bait for paedophiles?
Like the similarly contemplative EX MACHINA, the film achieves a lot with relatively little. It is set mostly in one room, with a small cast, and Cherry’s realistic appearance gives the impression of superlative special effects, in the same way that Scarlett Johansson’s voice in HER comes across as state-of-the-art. Ritch’s script balances existential conversations about what it means to exist with narrative revelations that punctuate the story perfectly, adding pace and stakes before ever becoming too academic.
“The film may act as a kind of Rorschach test, in which some viewers never lose sight of Cherry’s artificial origins, while others, like Amos, question if she is happy with her programming and if she longs to follow her own desires. THE ARTIFICE GIRL finds space for both sides and all the grey in between.”
Anthropomorphising seemingly inhuman beings in sci-fi is nothing new, but THE ARTIFICE GIRL is attuned to developments around AI in 2023. Asking Siri to perform mundane tasks is second nature to millions of Apple users, but what if she had a physical form and could hold a conversation that passes the Turing test? With organic cadences in speech and hyperreal movements, Cherry is a convincing and provocative ‘what if?’ The film may act as a kind of Rorschach test, in which some viewers never lose sight of Cherry’s artificial origins, while others, like Amos, question if she is happy with her programming and if she longs to follow her own desires. THE ARTIFICE GIRL finds space for both sides and all the grey in between.
It is this maturity that sets the film apart. It acts as a safe space to consider big and, for many, unfamiliar ideas, delivered in a way that is never patronising or preachy. By finding the humanity in the artificial, Ritch has his characters consider where the line between machine and something to be treated like a person is. This dilemma gives way to questions about whether AI ought to consent to its function and if its happiness is a factor when inputting commands.
Intelligent filmmaking with soul ought to be treasured when it comes along, and THE ARTIFICE GIRL is just that. What could be inaccessible due to its scientific subject matter or off-putting over the fervour AI discourse provokes is anything but. Instead, it is a profound and heartfelt rumination on what sets us apart from what we create and how that line continues to blur.