The Camp Host Puts a Post-Pandemic Spin on the Wilderness Horror Genre

The Camp Host Puts a Post-Pandemic Spin on the Wilderness Horror Genre

The wilderness—dark forests, rural backroads—is a go-to setting for the horror genre for obvious reasons. What better place to see city slickers flail than deep within nature, miles from the nearest cell-phone tower, surrounded by unfamiliar and inevitably hostile forces?

The Camp Host, an indie hitting free streamer Tubi this week, is very much in that tradition, though it throws a few quirks into its story that make it feel very of the moment. Written and directed by Henry Darrow McComas, who wrote Monster Squad documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards, The Camp Host follows married couple Sadie (Resident Alien’s Rachel Colwell) and Ed (Nikita’s Dillon Casey), who’ve hit the road in their camper van with their three-legged dog, Meeka, intent on soaking up nature after enduring nearly three years of covid lockdown. There’s tension between them—a normal side effect of being on an extended road trip that’s taken them from California to Wisconsin, but you can also sense ongoing issues lurking below the surface. Ed’s still working his job remotely; Sadie is “between things right now” but gets annoyed when he checks his phone too often. He’s leaning toward eventually buying a house and being more settled, while she’s excited they’re living in the moment and exploring together.

These irritations percolate throughout The Camp Host and come to a head just when Ed and Sadie need each other the most—but the main threat in the movie has nothing to do with relationship drama. Instead, it’s the never-named title character played by Brooke Johnson, who careens from “welcoming” to “off-putting” almost immediately when Sadie and Ed arrive at her campground. She’s white, but her eyes light up when she notices Sadie is Indigenous (calling her “Baby Bird” and “Thunderbird” and creepily grasping her beaded earrings), and she casually says things like “I keep a loaded revolver in my camper at all times.” Red flags! But the Camp Host’s main bugaboo is her list of rules, which seem practical enough—fire safety, observing quiet hours, etc.—but turn out to be the flash point for The Camp Host’s descent into brutal violence.

While The Camp Host’s story isn’t full of many surprises (it’s clear Johnson’s character is dangerous from the moment we meet her, and the film’s prologue foreshadows her vicious tendencies), the movie does offer some welcome rewards. Though she’s clearly smart and brave, Sadie isn’t always a sympathetic character, but Colwell still manages to make her someone you want to root for; meanwhile, Johnson crafts a uniquely unsettling character, an unhinged, power-mad environmentalist eagerly awaiting her next excuse to lash out. There’s also a gruesome toilet scene that will haunt you the next time you’re visiting a campground’s primitive facilities.

The Camp Host arrives on Tubi March 16.

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