Home » ‘The Camp Host’ Will Put You Off The Great Outdoors [Review]

‘The Camp Host’ Will Put You Off The Great Outdoors [Review]

We all went a little mad during the pandemic and The Camp Host, the debut feature from writer-director Henry Darrow McComas (who co-wrote and co-produced the lively documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards alongside Andre Gower) posits that some of us never fully recovered. Unlike most other slasher movies of its ilk, we know who the killer is from the outset and, more to the point, she doesn’t really bother hiding her crimes. The great strength of McComas’ impressively nuanced, dynamic, light-on-its-feet debut is that there’s no need for a central mystery to unravel or a villain to unmask.

The Camp Host kicks off with a young couple getting it on, as best they can, in the claustrophobic confines of their tent (he keeps his hat on, nodding to the cold or perhaps just his hipster credentials). Their very funny sex noises piss off the titular leader, who takes her job a bit too seriously and attacks like a hungry bear, pulling the woman out by her legs as blood splatters the trees–the first of many memorable sequences. Later, another tent-based murder is mistaken for sex, establishing that the host is a kind of Mrs. Voorhees-esque conservative scold who doesn’t want anyone to have any fun. The woman, whose name is never revealed, is the kind of boomer nightmare who has an old-school anti-theft device attached to the steering wheel of her van and uses acrylic paint while chastising others for destroying nature.

She’s kind of a sympathetic figure, clearly isolated, out of touch, and lonely, but the host is also incredibly hypocritical, and she has zero respect for anyone else’s personal boundaries. When the host first meets vacationing couple Sadie (Rachel Colwell) and Ed (Dillon Casey, giving great sniveling workaholic), she rudely demands to know where Sadie is “really from,” touches her without getting consent, and makes openly judgmental comments–-as Sadie later puts it, they really should’ve left when this stranger was being openly racist toward her. Of course, Grey Adult Pigtails over there doesn’t realize she’s being offensive, or she does and just doesn’t care since out in the wilderness, what she saws is law.

It’s always great to see an older actress getting a proper, meaty role beyond “goofy grandma” and Brooke Johnson makes for a formidable foe whether she’s attacking people in her nightdress or spewing out baseless conspiracy theories about how nature is healing (something that became a meme on Twitter during lockdown but clearly went over certain heads entirely). Colwell’s Sadie is more than a match for her though, the talented performer imbuing her lead with the ideal mixture of cowed, disbelieving desperation and take-no-prisoners moxie. Sadie isn’t a superhero but her heritage, which the camp host attempts to exploit to justify her vicious misdeeds, gives the young woman a unique take on the situation that, unbeknownst to her aggressor, makes Sadie much tougher to defeat.

Did You Know? Wicked Horror TV Has Classic and Independent Horror Films Available to Stream for Free!

McComas, too, has a clear viewpoint on hot-button topics like environmentalism, racism, and the ways white people make ourselves the center of everything even when we have no business doing so. Both Sadie and the camp host are well-rounded characters with their own demonstrable motivations and histories. Their performances are equally strong, but credit must also go to McComas’ writing, and how he stages this campfire-adjacent horror story. More often than not, male filmmakers, even those with the best intentions, stick a woman, queer person, or a POC in the leading role and pat themselves on the back, assuming their work is done. The result comes across as pandering at best and cynical points-scoring at worst. McComas acknowledges the complexity of the central argument and his inability to provide a solution rather than attempting to tie everything up in a neat little bow to buffer his own ego. More dudes should follow suit.

Unsurprisingly, then, The Camp Host is incredibly well-considered. It looks really pretty, the colors popping beautifully throughout from the yellow of a character’s beanie to the orange of a roaring fire. The night scenes are lit properly so that we can see everything that’s going on, which might seem like a small thing but given how badly everything has been lit lately, from tiny indie features to multi-million-dollar blockbusters, it’s something that should be pointed out and praised wherever possible. McComas, who cut his teeth in TV and shorts, shows real verve as a feature filmmaker, utilizing some lovely drone tracking shots to showcase the vastness and beauty of the woods, while elsewhere there’s a terrific shot of the camp host hiding in the trees, her face illuminated only by the glow of her cigarette, which rightly takes pride of place in the trailer. Likewise, the forest is subsequently, and ominously, lit solely by red rear headlights when Sadie and Ed attempt to flee the campsite in the middle of the night, the host hot on their heels (and still clad in just her nightdress).

The movie is filled with plenty of nightmare fuel imagery too, not least a shot of someone emerging from a confined space that’s later dubbed a “toilet demon” by Ed. There’s a strain of jet-black humor, including a sign boasting that the area is “Dillinger’s favorite getaway” and a warning early on to “watch out for predators” but wisely, The Camp Host takes itself and its topics of discussion seriously rather than ridiculing them to score cheap laughs. There’s a story about someone boiling alive in natural hot springs that’s up there with the infamous Santa story from Gremlins, but McComas’ movie would make an especially brilliant double bill with Superhost, The Ranger, or even the bloodcurdling Eden Lake–-all three of which are also about trying and failing to take a vacation because of a stranger whose nefarious purposes only become clear when it’s far too late.

The first-time feature writer-director makes great use of the various locations from the camper vans to the site itself. As a result, The Camp Host feels simultaneously self-contained and as though it brandishes a wide scope that encompasses all of America. The fact that we know who the killer is from the outset and can probably guess who’s going to survive doesn’t take anything away from the fun of it, or any of the movie’s scare potential, speaks to how accomplished The Camp Host is as a debut feature. Even without the obligatory sequel tease, it speaks very highly of McComas’ future potential as a filmmaker. With a fascinating, fresh take on current events and a keen eye for how to mount a scare and a laugh, alongside giving up-and-coming talent the proper space to shine, McComas stands out as one of the most exciting new voices in horror.

Catch The Camp Host streaming exclusively on Tubi now.

Director(s): Henry Darrow McComas
Writer(s): Henry Darrow McComas
Stars: Rachel Colwell, Dillon Casey, Brooke Johnson
Release date: March 16, 2024 (Tubi)
Language: English
Run Time: 95 minutes

Follow us on social media: Twitter and Facebook.

Liked it? Take a second to support Joey Keogh on Patreon!
Share This Post
Written by Joey Keogh
Slasher fanatic Joey Keogh has been writing since she could hold a pen, and watching horror movies even longer. Aside from making a little home for herself at Wicked Horror, Joey also writes for Birth.Movies.Death, The List, and Vague Visages among others. Her actual home boasts Halloween decorations all year round. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
Have your say!