Hannah Strong


September Says – first-look review

Two sisters share an unshakable bond in Ariane Labed's uniquely strange feature debut.

When we first meet September and July, their mother Sheela (Rakhee Thakrar) is instructing them on how to pose in their Grady Twins costumes as part of her ongoing photography project. July happily complies; September scowls. Flash forward a few years, and the pair are awkward teenagers, played by Pascale Kann and Mia Tharia – maybe twins, maybe not, they share a secret language and a set of bullies. While July maintains a code of silence and attempts to completely ignore their jibes, September, ever the more confident sister, bites back. She cuts off the ringleader’s ponytail, she takes to carry a flick knife to protect herself and her sister. But is her semi-feral attitude helpful? When September is suspended from school for acting out, July seems to breathe a sigh of relief.

Adapted from Daisy Johnson’s novel Sisters, Ariane Labed’s directorial debut is part gothic fairytale, part horror story, with stilted rhythms and strange imagery that evokes the Greek New Wave through which Labed rose to fame. Yet the film is firmly grounded in British and Irish iconography, as the three women depart for their absent grandmother’s cottage on the Irish coast midway through the film following a mysterious tragedy which remains opaque until late in the game. There’s a sense the family are mired in tragedy; the death of July and September’s father is alluded to but never fully explained, and there’s some suggestion he was no saint. September, a domineering presence, lacks her sister’s serenity, and such seems compelled to control her at every turn. Sheela, meanwhile, is a ditzy mother, well-meaning but distant from her daughters, an outsider to their unique relationship. In one extremely funny but perhaps out-of-place scene, she picks up a bloke at a pub for a one-night stand, which is narrated in a stream-of-consciousness voice-over.

If there’s one complaint, it’s that a very silly third-act reveal somewhat undermines the sombreness of the film. This is probably a detail taken directly from the source material, and it possibly has a more touching impact on the page, but on screen it is just left-field enough to be distracting, verging on comical, rather than devastating.

Even so, evoking the strange combination of brutal British realism and light fantasy of Jacqueline Wilson’s iconic young adult novels (particularly Double Act), it’s a promising debut for Labed, who moves between the uncanny and the tender with ease. Her DoP Balthazar Lab captures the windswept beauty of the Irish coast, which is as arresting as it is foreboding. We’re always at a slight remove from September and July, and there’s something voyeuristic about the rigid angles of the camera, as though we’re being told a secret that we’re not quite comfortable hearing.

Published 24 May 2024

Tags: Ariane Labed September Says

Suggested For You

Ariane Labed: ‘It’s a fight if you want to shoot on film’

By Vince Medeiros

On the ground at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, we caught up with one of our favourite actors to discuss her new role in gothic delight, The Vourdalak.

Hoard review – proudly strange and provocative

By David Jenkins

Seek out this stunning, empathetic and radical British debut from first-time British filmmaker Luna Carmoon.

review LWLies Recommends


By Laurence Boyce

Dogtooth is a film that delights in disconcerting the viewer and refuses to supply any easy answers.

review LWLies Recommends

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.