Review: ‘Adult Swim Yule Log’ is a surreal, pleasant surprise to haunt your holidays

Adult Swim Yule Log
Adult Swim Yule Log

One of the holiday season’s most straightforward delights is the yule log. A simple image of a burning piece of wood is a great background watch, and the crackling of the fire can be as relaxing as any ASMR video. But what would happen if this deceptively benign image turned into something surreal, thrilling, and kind of gross? You would probably get Adult Swim Yule Log, the network’s first foray into live-action feature-length films, and a surprise release when it aired after the season finale of Rick and Morty’s sixth season. In Yule Log, we move from static shots of a fire crackling, to scenes across time (and maybe dimensions?), and get something wholly unique. 

The first hint that something is off is when we see a pair of legs pass by the fire: turns out this fire is in an Airbnb-type rental, and the legs belong to the cleaning person who’s charged with tidying up between visitors. When this cleaning person is killed off-camera after a murderous mother-son duo (Tordy Clark and Brendan Patrick Connor) weasels their way in, the violence simultaneously breaks the illusion of safety and familiarity of the yule log in one fell swoop. From there, we can only watch as the mother-son murder team cleans up, and then hides away in the cabin. We then meet the actual occupants of the cabin, Alex (Justin Miles) and Zoe (Andrea Laing), a couple who are at the cozy spot for a romantic getaway that’s about to turn into something completely unexpected (and deadly).

Adult Swim Yule Log takes the sensibilities of Writer-Director Casper Kelly’s previous works (Too Many Cooks, Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, the beloved Cheddar Goblin sequence in Mandy) and gives them time to expand and warp into something wholly unique. There’s a potent mix of practical and digital effects for maximum gross-out sequences, but also for an experimental approach to a story that eventually stretches across time and dimensions. The film is a fun, disorienting ride that always keeps you on your toes. At 91 minutes, it’s longer than some of Kelly’s previous works, giving it lots of room to be surreal, funny, and harrowing but well-paced.

It’s grounded by worthy performances from actors like Miles and Laing, but also has standouts like Clark who is clearly having a blast committing to her role as Mother. I enjoyed these elements as well as some others that seemed a little murky — there is a clear throughline about the trauma of spaces, how pain can stain somewhere irrevocably, embodied in a murderous floating log. It’s a clear jab at the tendencies “elevated horror” has to make the real terror of any given horror movie trauma (when it doesn’t always have to be), but manages to get the point across poignantly with screen wipes across time, showing us exactly what happened in that cabin years before Alex and Zoe arrived. It’s effective, and kind of silly, too. Therein lies the joys of Adult Swim Yule Log: it’s surreal and complex, but knows how to have a goopy, good time, too. What more could you want from a subversive horror take on holiday ASMR?

Adult Swim Yule Log
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Adult Swim Yule Log iz surreal and complex, but knows how to have a goopy, good time, too. What more could you want from a subversive horror take on holiday ASMR?