Of all the strange, unorthodox, or even borderline offensive gifts your friends or loved ones could give you this holiday season, none will be as demented as whatever the hell Adult Swim decided to drop this week.
If you venture over to HBO Max, type “Adult Swim Yule Log” into the search bar, and press play on the unassuming image of a fireplace, you’ll be treated to the latest bizarre project from Casper Kelly. Kelly made waves eight years ago when Adult Swim snuck his now popular and memorable short Too Many Cooks into the block of parody infomercials the network likes to air in the late-night/early morning hours. Behold, Adult Swim Yule Log (also known as The Fire Place), a wacky work of God-only-knows-what that delights as much as it unnerves.
This is a strange project to review. You truly want to go in blind. An attempt to decipher the plot should be reserved for the Reddit community. I’ll be as vague as I can. Kelly’s latest begins by showing a close-up of a crackling fireplace — it looks very similar to those hours-long videos on YouTube that simply serve as artificial ambiance during the holidays. As music plays, we can hear stray sounds from the outside: a car door slamming, followed by a woman vacuuming inside, then a break-in, and then a murder taking place. You know, the usual sounds of the season.
Eventually, the static shot zooms outward thanks to Alex (Justin Miles looking like a combination of Chris Pratt and Kevin Clark from “The Ringer”), who is directing this Airbnb fireplace for his marginally lucrative side-hustle. He’s rented this backwoods mountain cabin with the plan to propose to his wise yet sensitive and troubled girlfriend, Zoe (Andrea Laing). I’ll stop there.
The fun of a movie like Adult Swim Yule Log is discovering it and subsequently sharing it with friends. The film does more than your average work of surrealist horror-comedy insofar as that it tries to connect this present-day story with the distant past and the faraway future. Kelly and company incorporate flashbacks in a nifty way, having them enter from the left side of the screen and glide across; sometimes having a portion of the scene overlay itself over the events unfolding in the present day. For about 35 minutes, the film is that aforementioned static shot of the Airbnb living room (the fireplace in the center of the screen). For the remainder, however, it turns into more of a conventional film with multiple cameras — about the only aspect in Adult Swim’s oddball holiday feature you could call “conventional.”
Kelly’s movie tries to tackle ideas of generational trauma in a half-hearted way. The fact that this story is predicated on a (hopefully fictitious?) lynching that occurred in the 1950s is a gumptious screenwriting move to say the very least. Any meaningful takeaway is mostly obscured by the bevy of inexplicable and/or surreal elements that exist here. My favorite was probably Charles Green (credited as “Little Man in Fire”), who shows up twice to lure two different people into the fire in order to make a big life decision.
Like Too Many Cooks, I appreciate Adult Swim Yule Log and Casper Kelly’s deliriously demented style. I love shows and movies that make me uncertain whether to laugh, fear, wince, squirm, or cackle. I did all of those watching this “secret movie.” It’s no secret that is a measure of some success.
NOTE: Adult Swim Yule Log (aka The Fire Place) is now streaming on HBO Max.
Starring: Justin Miles, Andrea Laing, Danielia Maximillian, Sean Hankinson, Skye Passmore, Hannah Alline, Brendan Patrick Connor, Tordy Clark, Mark Costello, and Charles Green. Directed by: Casper Kelly.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!