Written and directed by Franklin Ritch, who also stars in the film, a team of special agents discovers a revolutionary new computer program to bait and trap online predators. After teaming up with the program’s troubled developer, they soon find that the AI is rapidly advancing beyond its original purpose. Also starring: Tatum Matthews, Lance Henriksen, Sinda Nichols and David Girard.
Choosing to create a story which is intensely dialogue focused and taking place within minimal and small sets for the entirety of the film is setting yourself a challenge and it’s one Franklin Ritch rose to. Making it work is all about pacing and progression, if it doesn’t move well and continually have aspects to add, then it will stall but The Artifice Girl does it well. The writing makes the clever choice of how to walk the line of its ethical conversation about artificial intelligence. It makes itself feel knowledgeable but also doesn’t get bogged down in the theoretical side, which would have opened itself up to a much larger academic discussion, one that would have been incredibly difficult to pull off.
It’s dipping into familiar territory but at the same time it feels original, it hits a captivating note right out of the gate and impressively holds onto it throughout. It may not be at its strongest in its final moments but it still works. The direction matches that simple setup, which again was a good choice because it uses the space well rather than attempting to bring a larger movement which likely would have become distracting.
Some of the choices that Ritch makes with his direction feel like a fun nod to its technology foundation, even when it’s two people talking in person, the framing feels like a video call you’d find in a sci-fi flick. The sets are minimalist but they’re chosen well enough that they don’t require a great level of detail, its focus is always on the dialogue. It also holds itself to a tight ninety minutes which is much appreciated in a world where the average duration of a film is forever lengthening.
The other key element to make The Artifice Girl work is the cast, the weight of the film lands almost entirely on their shoulders and thankfully, they casted this ensemble well. The first one is easy given that AI creator, Gareth is, for the most part, played by writer, director Franklin Ritch. He captures that mix of being isolated and lonely but also incredibly intelligent, which then brings that feel of unpredictability and untrustworthiness, keeping things interesting.
Sinda Nichols and David Girard give the film its special agents, they both have that air of authority and thirst for justice which adds nicely to the film’s tension and suspense. Nichols falls more harshly on that drive which has a great strength to it, while Girard gives us a more curious, questioning presence which helps to drive the film’s conversation. Then you have the film’s AI presence herself, Cherry played by Tatum Matthews who does a fantastic job of adding that not overly human touch, leaving space for the robotic, making sure that Cherry isn’t too perfect. Topped with Lance Henriksen who makes a memorable turn as an older Gareth to nicely close out the film.
The Artifice Girl is a great example of how to make a low-budget sci-fi thriller, it keeps things simple and focuses on its story and characters, leaving no need for effects and heavy-handed complexity. It has a captivating presence, it moves confidently and has solid pacing and progression throughout. The entire cast bring the exact energy needed to keep the audience glued in and they all work together excellently. It would be easy to underestimate this film but if you give it the chance, you might be surprised by how well it draws you in.