Review by Sean Boelman
Although most documentary awards tend to go to flashier documentaries made by higher-profile filmmakers, there are often hidden gems that go under the radar. Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh’s Wildcat is one such movie, telling an extraordinarily compelling story in more ways than one.
The film follows a young soldier struggling with PTSD and depression as he finds a second chance when he gets the opportunity to foster an orphaned baby ocelot in the Amazon rainforest. It’s a story that almost seems too specific to be compelling, but it is also those stories that are unknown that are the most unexpectedly riveting.
For much of the movie’s opening, it seems as if it is going to be something really conventional, but at a certain point, it becomes clear that there is much more to this story than it initially let on. The overall arc is a tad on the predictable side, but it is thoroughly moving and inspiring despite this.
Of course, the film doesn’t struggle to develop its animalian subjects because it’s hard not to be in awe of the adorable nature of the big cats. However, more surprising is the fact that it is able to effectively and independently develop its human subjects. The movie does not look down on or pity its subject.
In addition to the obvious environmentalist themes, the film also explores mental health and PTSD in a much more empathetic way than most movies are able to. The film lingers on the humanistic elements of his story which blend together with the “boy and his pet” elements wonderfully.
There are some scenes in which it feels like the movie is pulling at the audience’s heartstrings, and to an extent, it is. However, it is extremely effective at what it does, getting an essentially guaranteed emotional reaction out of the viewer. It earns every single ounce of emotion that it gets.
Something else that helps this film stand out is that it is not glossy like a majority of nature documentaries. Much of the footage feels very raw, as if it is footage recorded for a wildlife live stream. The result is that it feels much more grounded, which is particularly important during the more emotional sequences.
Wildcat is enormously effective, both as a nature documentary and a movie about rebuilding oneself in a time of pain. It has a profound emotional effect — both expected and unexpected — making it one of the best documentaries of the year.
Wildcat is now playing in theaters and streams on Prime Video beginning December 30.