Movie Review: Stumbling into the AI future by hunting pedophiles — “The Artifice Girl”

The state of the art in the “artificial intelligence” debate is packed into a 90 minute indie drama just now making its way from the film festival circuit and into the reach of the general public.

“The Artifice Girl” is a polished, startlingly-smart riff on AI delivered in three crisp acts, the first of which might be deemed The Present Day.

Writer-director Franklin Ritch’s modest, smart and compelling film considers the moral quandaries of the present, the near future and the future beyond that not with apocalyptic prophecies or a fundamentally-rewired world. His movie jumps from “It’s here and we didn’t know it” to “It’s here, are we managing it well?” to “It’s here and where do we go from The Singularity?”

And to think it all begins with a “bad ass online vigilante.”

A zealous FBI agent and single mom Deena (Sinda Nichols) who runs a “We catch pedophiles” task force lures a tech nerd with CGI skills into an interrogation. Gareth, played by writer-director Ritch, is a deer-in-headlights for this impromptu interrogation. Deena and her colleague (David Girard) wonder if secretive Gareth is some sort of online predator, or if he’s that “vigilante.”

And if he’s the guy passing on leads about all these soliciting online pedophiles to authorities, who exactly is his “bait?” They want to meet Cherry, the blonde, blue-eyed 11 year-old that Gareth is using to lure suspects, to check on her well being.

But the computer whiz and movie digital special effects guy made her up, invented her and turned her (sort of) loose. Cherry (Tatum Matthews) is a machine-learning-assisted online prowler for pedophiles, an AI tween showing up in jerky, low-grade-video chat rooms and cheerfully, innocently luring the perverted into her trap.

The first act of “The Artifice Girl” is about processing this shocking news, getting a sample of Cherry’s interaction abilities and enlisting Gareth in this ICWL (International Child Welfare League) front for ongoing investigations, ostensibly a group that does advocacy and helps victims but actually a clearinghouse for predator hunting.

Our biggest clue about what is to follow is learning Gareth’s reasoning, after a testy, threatening, “invasion of privacy” interrogation with Deena a near-hysterical “bad cop” and her partner Amos playing the might-be-on-your-side “good cop.”

Gareth officially joins up because Cherry “thought it would be good idea.”

The two acts that follow show us where Cherry and her human colleagues go from this almost accidental unleashing of AI onto the multiverse.

I love the way the film opens with Deena questioning her Apple virtual assistant Siri on moral choices and existential matters, more out of despair than anthing else, and seamlessly transitions into the Next Logical Step — an online AI presence that can think and learn.

Ritch knows his stuff, not just having Gareth rattle off details of Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, but citing the ancient antecedents that identify sentience.

The film tends to drag a bit, and that “bit” turns into a melodramatic “lot” as we hear many speeches and declarative monologues and see artificial conflicts generated to force unfeeling Cherry’s hand.

But I was bowled over by how up-to-the-minute topical this take on this genuine moral and human-survival-oriented debate is. It’s not just the AI issues, but the culture’s obsession with childhood victimization and inability to make kids safe despite decades of warnings and vast efforts to ferret out the perverse predators among us is also so current it’s probably being discussed on a TV news program somewhere as I type this review.

Ritch has been making shorts and unheralded features for a couple of years. But “The Artifice Girl” shows just how good sci-fi and drama can be with a modest budget and only a single “name” — horror/sci-fi icon Lance Henricksen, who enriches the third act — in the cast to help secure financing and the attention of film festivals.

Ritch has made a no-budget indie they should screen and use as instruction and inspiration in film schools.

If the script is smart enough and the players good enough to be believed, your indie picture’s got every chance to make a mark, with or without maxing out a lot of family members’ credit cards.

Rating: unrated, violence adult subject matter

Cast: Tatum Matthews, David Girard, Sinda Nichols, Franklin Ritch and Lance Henricksen

Credits: Scripted and directed by Franklin Ritch. An XYZ Films release.

Running time: 1:33


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.