Conservationists Struggle with Mental Illness in Astonishing Documentary


Home Movie Reviews Wildcat Review: Conservationists Struggle with Mental Illness in Astonishing Documentary

Veteran Harry Turner grapples with PTSD fostering ocelot cubs alongside Samantha Zwicker in the Peruvian Amazon.

Amazon Studios

A British veteran suffering crippling PTSD finds purpose in the Peruvian Amazon with a caring conservationist. Wildcat chronicles the remarkable story of Harry Turner and Samantha Zwicker. The pair rescued carnivores displaced by loggers, mining, hunting, and animal trafficking in the dense remote jungle. They became the first non-governmental organization to successfully rescue, rear, and rewild orphaned ocelots. The documentary depicts an emotional journey as friends, then lovers, tackling mental illness while desperately trying to save their beloved animals.

Directors Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh introduce the thin, heavily tattooed, and psychologically fragile Harry Turner. We primarily see Wildcat through his narration and raw video journals. Harry enlists in the British army at eighteen. He’s sent to Afghanistan and witnesses horrific atrocities. Medically discharged, Harry returned home a completely broken man. A failed suicide attempt led to the need for an immediate escape.


Samantha Zwicker, a Seattle based PhD student, became enamored by Peruvian wildlife. She commits fully to conservation efforts by starting Hoja Nueva. Samantha and her team build an encampment five hours from the nearest town. Harry arrives as a lost spirit with an earnest drive to help. Samantha, the daughter of an abusive alcoholic, is magnetically drawn to the wounded veteran. They become inseparable friends on a mission to save precious animals.

Wildcat begins with Samantha receiving an ocelot from loggers. Khan completes Harry in a way he never thought possible. He’s tasked with raising the adorable, black and yellow spotted cub. Harry films the trials, travails, and immense gratification of parenting Khan. But the ocelot is not a pet. It needs to be a fierce hunter for any possibility of surviving in the wild. This means learning to kill everything from rodents to caiman. The filmmakers mark the passage of time with Khan’s age and his expected rewilding date.

Harry and Samantha’s Intense Relationship

Harry’s efforts are continually marred by heartbreaking tragedy. These scenes are incredibly moving. Harry struggles to process grief and disappointment. Wildcat takes a stark turn by addressing his severe depression and the toll it takes on everyone around him. Harry and Samantha have an intense relationship. She periodically returns to Seattle to complete schoolwork and fundraise for Hoja Nueva. Her absence creates a void that Harry fills with dangerous behavior. He cuts himself to release pain and angst.

Related: Exclusive: Wildcat Directors Discuss the Film’s Grueling Four-Year Production in the Rainforest

Wildcat confronts difficult themes with searing honesty. Harry’s weeping diaries are astonishing to behold. Life in the jungle is brutal. Oppressive heat, biting insects, constant bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, it is not for the weak or faint-hearted. Factor in Harry’s clinical depression, and you have even greater problems. He acknowledges the crushing sadness that pervades his existence. It stalks him always, even in the place he finds the most secure.

Harry and Samantha’s troubled intimacy rivets on a personal level. You’re enthralled watching the couple valiantly save endangered animals. Then gobsmacked by their dysfunctional handling of a major mental crisis. She’s terrified he’ll hurt himself. He rages against her help as an unwanted intrusion. There’s only so much tension a rope can take before breaking.

Coping with Mental Illness

Amazon Studios

Wildcat touches many nerves with an unfiltered eye. Frost and Lesh show their subjects unvarnished. Harry and Samantha do vital work with the best intentions. Their incredible dedication is truly admirable. Animals left for dead are thriving in the wild due to their selflessness. But the most gripping aspect of the film is their relationship’s evolution to toxicity. A must-see to understand how coping with mental illness and instability can lead to further crisis if not handled properly in a therapeutic environment.

Wildcat is a production of Ajna Films, 30WEST, Emerging Earth Films, Harmonium Pictures, and Unbound Films. It is currently in limited theatrical release from Amazon Studios with a Prime Video debut on December 30th.


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