HBO Max just quietly released Adult Swim Yule Log, a meta-horror film disguised as a cozy fireplace video.
The subgenre of Christmas horror movie is a particular one, even in a field that frequently mines niche questions like “What if Winnie the Pooh were a slasher movie?” A new addition to the canon of Christmas horror was just added to HBO Max without promotion and deliberately designed to confuse unwary subscribers: Adult Swim Yule Log. This odd, gory horror film was written and directed by Casper Kelly and is intentionally patterned off the kind of “burning fireplace” video used as a screensaver for cozy winter evenings.
If you were looking to put on the image of a crackling fireplace while relaxing with your family on Christmas morning, it would be very easy to accidentally put on Adult Swim Yule Log, which is no doubt intentional. The movie is not identified on the streaming platform as anything other than a looped video of a wood fire, and definitely not as the bizarre horror movie that it becomes.
For the first few minutes of Adult Swim Yule Log, it is no different from the cozy ASMR video it purports to be. Then the sound of a car interrupts the crackling fire, followed by a woman (Megan Hayes) entering the frame, speaking on a phone. The camera angle does not change as the woman herself is interrupted by a mostly unseen serial killer (Brendan Patrick Connor) and his mother. It barely even changes when the two killers are themselves interrupted by young couple Zoe (Andrea Laing) and Alex (Justin Miles), who plans on using a romantic weekend getaway to propose.
Explaining more of the plot of Adult Swim Yule Log would spoil a whole lot of twists and turns. However, even knowing that the movie will gradually become a bizarre nightmare of alien visitors, hillbilly horror, David Lynch-like surrealism, robe-wearing apocalyptic cultists, and in the strangest, darkest twist of all, meditations on the history of racism and violence. In short, Adult Swim Yule Log is quite a strange journey, perfectly capped off by a very strange theme song.
Casper Kelly is best known for his work on Adult Swim, where he co-created the show Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell and worked on many others, including cult shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. However, Adult Swim Yule Log is most similar to Kelly’s 2014 surreal short film Too Many Cooks; the latter program also began by presenting itself as an innocuous 1980s-style sitcom intro before turning into a darkly hilarious, disquieting slasher flick.
Unlike Too Many Cooks, Adult Swim Yule Log is a full-length movie and utilizes its increased runtime to maximum effect. In many ways, the film shares a lot of DNA with the 2011 Drew Goddard film The Cabin in the Woods, not least of which is the setting. Both films utilize the tropes of many different horror films at once and both have a shocking sense of humor underneath all the gore. Adult Swim Yule Log is now streaming on HBO Max.