I’ve been moaning that I haven’t seen a decent scary film pretty much all year. Far from an unflinching macho man, I finally caught a horror-show. It’s a documentary called Girl Model and it’s sickening beyond recognition, inspiring anger and anguish at every turn.
It begins with an American scout named Ashley Arbaugh, a former model turned Japanese agency scout, who spends her time travelling across the world looking for the next big thing. She swarms in on Russian blonde Nadya, a wide-eyed 13-year-old who seems to be getting into this world of gross exploitation for benevolent means: to financially aid her poverty-stricken family. Told she’ll earn $8000 in a month, Nadya ventures east to Tokyo. Arriving with pocket change and no grasp of either English or Japanese, she wanders around the bustling streets, crying and scared, until she finds her dingy apartment.
Signing a corrupt contract that will see her dropped from the agency if she gains a centimetre of fat on her body, Nadya and her bunk-bed roommate (another virginal Russian) move from casting to casting, putting on a brave face for cameras but never reaping the financial benefits. Wising up to the mess they find themselves in, the adolescent girls soon realise that they are puppets controlled by their sleazy, rich agents.
From the simplistic title alone, an audience knows roughly what to expect with Girl Model: a film which aims to antagonise the “glamorous” connotations of the modelling trade. It’s at it’s most revelatory when Nadya’s harrowing journey is mixed with the unsympathetic scout’s industry insight. Ashley is the voice of experience, yet fails to be the voice of reason, happy to lead these naive, pubescent girls into this world under false pretences if the money’s right.
Redmon and Sabin make for very objective documentarians. The pair are so adept with fly-on-the-wall filmmaking that one wishes they claimed more authority. With this human trafficking subtext omnipresent throughout the film, they shy away from confronting it; much more content with invading the personal space of young Nadya, much like the stylists and photographers surrounding her. It’s easier. Such lack of gumption makes Girl Model a cold, exploitative and worst of all pointless portrayal of a malicious subject.