blood_stripe_2Year: 2016
Director(s): Remy Auberjonois
Writer(s): Remy Auberjonois, Kate Nowlin
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Color, 92 mins

Synopsis: A Marine Corps Lioness returns home from Iraq, unable to separate her mind from the war.

Like its evocative title, Remy Auberjonois’ Blood Stripe leaves a mark that’s hard to get rid of. It’s an expressive work of nuanced complexity, exploring the cyclical nature of violence that some veterans have to weather, fighting physical wars overseas only to return home and fight a new battle within. Turning restraint into deafening tension, Auberjonois’ approach is intricately layered, thanks in part to the raw talents of co-writer and star, Kate Nowlin. As the film’s lead, Nowlin single-handedly traps us into a world of isolation, paranoia and fear that is as magnetic as it is devastating. This is a film that’ll no doubt beg for conversation, being more about what isn’t said than what is, all while sinking its claws into our skin and refusing to let go even after it ends.

Returning from multiple tours of duty in Iraq, an unnamed Marine Corps Sergeant (Kate Nowlin) is initially excited to be home. She’s returning to a loving husband and a few friends, but quickly finds herself restless and fidgety, unable to sleep and unsatisfied with the slow, mundane world around her. Tensions boil over at a welcome home party, in which an acquaintance gets overly physical, causing her to violently retaliate. Spiraling, the Sergeant inexplicable leaves a new job and escapes to a nearby camp resort (one which she attended as a child), offering her services as a helping hand. Keeping busy with numerous odd jobs, she struggles with the psychological torment going on within her head, trying to gain her composure amidst the idyllic backdrop.

The most powerful aspect of Aubjeronois’ film, is the way he contrasts the Sergeant’s inner struggle with the picturesque beauty around her. The film’s setting is as much a character as the ensemble, with Radium Cheung’s beautiful lakeside cinematography always mindful of what’s at stake. Impressionistic night time photography isolates the Sergeant in a way that mimics her alienation, while day time scenes offer a lush, green warmth to her incendiary, psychological violence. It’s the film’s visual beauty that convincingly lays out the love and fear that are tearing the conflicted Sergeant apart, and Aubjeronois’ rightly keeps the true source of her trauma ambiguous, never allowing it to be simplified or easily explained. A visiting Church group to the camp adds a welcome touch of levity and grace, giving the Sergeant a way to reach out and overcome a slowly mounting fear of human interaction. The film eventually leads to a conclusion that avoids a neat bow, never betraying the depth of what’s at stake, and thriving in the space between words and the pent up emotions of each nuanced, fully formed character.

blood_stripe_1Needless to say, the film wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful without the performance of star Kate Nowlin. Right from the unassuming start, Nowlin breathes life into an atypical female anti-hero, presenting a different kind of woman rarely seen on screen. Bringing both an intimidating physicality and a keen sense of fragility, her performance sells the film’s emotional authenticity and gives it a humane depth that draws us deep into her character’s haunted world. Simply put, her performance feels like lighting in a bottle, and if anything, is worth the viewing alone. Rene Auberjonois’ Art and Rusty Schwimmer’s Dot fare the best as the auxiliary characters, each bringing out different sides from Nowlin and the Sergeant.

Boasting a rare kind of emotional verisimilitude, Blood Stripe is a slow burn that reverently earns its drama. Taking a simple premise and exploring the true scope of PTSD, the film is equal parts conversation piece and tribute to the many men and women who are unable to leave the war behind. Definitely a head-spinning debut, the artistic merits of Auberjonois and Nowlin are a one-two punch that’ll leave you stunned.