Tuesday, June 18, 2024

“SEPTEMBER SAYS”

THE STORY – Sisters July and September are thick as thieves, though very different -September is protective and distrustful of others, while July is open to and curious about the world. Their dynamic is a concern to their single mum, Sheela, who is unsure what to do with them. When September is suspended from their school, July is left to fend for herself and begins to assert her own independence – which does not go unnoticed by September. Tension among the three women builds when they take refuge in an old holiday home in Ireland, where July finds her bond with September shifting in ways she cannot entirely understand or control – and a series of surreal encounters test the family to their limit.

THE CAST – Mia Tharia, Rakhee Thakrar & Pascale Kann

THE TEAM – Ariane Labed (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes


“September Says” is an uncompromising and affecting feature directorial debut from filmmaker Ariane Labed. Adapted from Daisy Johnson’s 2020 novel, “Sisters,” the film explores the adolescent years among siblings when a strong codependency exists. 

Starring Pascale Kann in a shattering debut performance as the strong-willed and confrontational September, she takes on a protective role over her sister, July (Mia Tharia), who is meek and does everything September tells her to do. At home, they focus on their deeply troubling version of sisterhood, while their single mother, Sheela (Rakhee Thakrar), spends time on her fashion and artistic photoshoots. Sheela’s concentration on herself doesn’t leave room for her to understand that her daughters are the subjects of extreme bullying at school. Their classmates often set up embarrassing traps and resort to name-calling at any given moment, but September refuses to turn the other cheek. Instead, she counters their relentlessness with bold responses that often get her suspended. While the suspension forces September to spend time away from her sister, it encourages July to build a sense of independence by making her own decisions, including texting a crush and sending him explicit pictures. But once her sister and the entire school learn about this, the bullying magnifies, leading September to make a decision that she can’t take back.

The plot of Labed’s feature adaptation offers a glimpse of the chilling character studies of codependent sisters. But what we actually see is a disturbing representation of abuse enabled by neglect and bullying. September relies on July to exert her will of aggression and dominance as a means of “taking care of her,” things she seeks approval of from her emotionally absent mother. However, she does love her girls dearly. July depends on September to save her from her bullies by any means necessary. The result is an ominously mysterious story amplified by exceptional performances.

At the turning point of “September Says,” the world in which the sisters have built a safe haven for playing games and mimicking weird animal sounds becomes a concerning creation for mental captivity. Originally, their games are harmless and provide a sense of entertainment when they aren’t the focus of Sheela’s photography. But in the latter half of the feature, the games become increasingly intense, with violent undertones that make you question what’s truly happening among this sibling pair. While director Labed lays out subtle context clues for her viewers to decode, the eerie score and dialogue amplify the mysterious atmosphere. September and July’s relationship once served as a small view into adolescence and fond memories, but it develops into a resoundingly troublesome one that Labed daringly explores with an empathetic lens.

In theory, many things in “September Says” should not work. The film begins as an affecting story about the comforts of sisterhood, in which the tone and atmosphere maintain a curious yet intimate reflection of adolescent fragility. But as the film progresses, a more haunting atmosphere emerges to emphasize the lasting effects of codependency on mental health. Even with this tonal change and a timeline jump, Labed is careful not to reveal too much too quickly. Instead, she permits matters to progress naturally and methodically, keeping you on the edge of your seat, waiting to determine what happens next. With this approach, Labed also enables our imaginations to run wild until the reveal comes barreling through with intensity and emotion, showcasing her extraordinary promise as a filmmaker with bouts of brilliance shining through.

While the third act tends to lose some of the magic of slower and more careful direction early on due to several abrupt flashbacks, Labed’s debut never feels exploitative or emotionally manipulative. If anything, it helps us come to terms with some of the earlier actions by September and July while adequately showcasing the inevitable churn on mental health. To that end, Pascale Kann gives a show-stopping performance as September that teeters on the edge of creepy and disturbing. With a simple vocal command using her confusing, sweet voice, you never know if something unhinged will come next. Mia Tharia is also a force to be reckoned with. With a more restrained approach to her dependent character, she compellingly demands our sympathy at every turning corner.

A successful feature debut by Ariane Labed, “September Says,” is an intriguing yet harrowing depiction of codependency. With intimate storytelling that never relies on dialogue or over-explains, the film maintains a mysterious atmosphere while tackling important themes related to sisterhood and trauma. Newcomer Pascale Kann, along with Mia Tharia, are an outstanding sister duo tackling codependency from different wavelengths. While Kann boldly uses intense glares to pair with her sweet voice, Tharia demonstrates confidence with her restraint, accentuating the trap her character feels she’s in.

While the story of “September Says” doesn’t say anything new about codependency and mental health, Labed’s direction confirms her potential as a storyteller thanks to her ability to tackle heavy thematic elements through an empathetic lens.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Director Ariana Labed crafts a looming showcase of dependency that boasts exceptional performances from Kann and Tharia. Her natural talent for visual storytelling through an empathetic lens offers a compelling emotional experience that never feels manipulative.

THE BAD - The flashback in the third act, which reveals a large plot point, comes abruptly. As a result, viewers might be taken aback by the sudden switch in pace.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Related Articles

Stay Connected

101,150FollowersFollow
101,150FollowersFollow
9,315FansLike
9,315FansLike
4,686FollowersFollow
4,686FollowersFollow

Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Director Ariana Labed crafts a looming showcase of dependency that boasts exceptional performances from Kann and Tharia. Her natural talent for visual storytelling through an empathetic lens offers a compelling emotional experience that never feels manipulative.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The flashback in the third act, which reveals a large plot point, comes abruptly. As a result, viewers might be taken aback by the sudden switch in pace.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"SEPTEMBER SAYS"