Directed by Remy Auberjonois
Written by Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin
Blood Stripe follows the struggles of a recently-returned-home Marine as she attempts to acclimate and assimilate back into the day-to-day routine of civilian life—battling both the crippling effects of PTSD and the awkward reception of those unsure of how to welcome her back.
Upon arriving home, our main character, Sarge—played wonderfully by Kate Nowlin— finds communication with friends and family is difficult. Contact even more so, even with her understanding but ill-equipped husband. Before long she is partaking in everything from over-indulgence in alcohol to late-night lawn mowing to take the edge off. When her uneasiness and paranoia comes to a head in a violent incident at a welcome home party, it becomes clear that she needs to seek help. Finding that help through organized channels, however, is not a viable option (the wait time through the VA is over 100 days).
Sarge instead takes flight to a camp on Lake Vermilion in the North woods of Minnesota, a place with happy memories from girlhood. Here she finds tranquility, good honest work, and an accepting warmth from the down-to-earth camp manager, Dot. However, as additional people arrive to the lake—specifically a pair of macho hunters with a penchant for Metallica—her peace is disrupted and paranoia returns.
The film is subtly and smartly written. We’re never bludgeoned with on-the-nose descriptions or motivations for the isolating and paranoid behavior of Sarge, but her struggle is palpable and real. Kate Nowlin’s commanding performance brings it all to life and is worthy of praise. She brings a physical presence to Sarge that sells the character as a 100% authentic Marine and also a humanity that is equal parts powerful and vulnerable. The supporting cast is also fantastic, with Rene Auberjonois (who provides much levity) and Rusty Schwimmer (as Dot) adding admirably to the film’s authenticity.
Of note, little focus is spent on the fact that our main character is a female veteran—certainly not a first for cinema, but definitely a rarity in depictions of wounded warriors—and it’s a credit to the film that we know Sarge as a human being first and foremost. Also left without much exploration are the specifics of her wartime experiences, and even her personal identity itself (if we ever hear her full name, I missed it). These decisions by the writing team of Auberjonois and Nowlin allow Sarge to serve as a symbol for any woman, or man, dealing with PTSD.
Blood Stripe is a well-made and socially conscious drama that brings an under-reported topic to the forefront, featuring an award-worthy performance from Kate Nowlin and, as a bonus, some incredibly breath-taking cinematography from the shores of Lake Vermillion.
Artistic Value – 7 / 10
Social Value – 9 / 10
Entertainment Value – 8 / 10