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Adult Swim just broke bold new ground in the Christmas horror subgenre

Settle in for holiday ambience — and some grisly murders.

In a world of high-profile trailer drops, streaming premieres, and spoilers everywhere, it’s hard to watch a movie that’s genuinely surprising. Every single movie or show is in a crowded marketplace and has to sell itself in seconds; there’s no time for withholding any secrets. Viewers just aren’t likely to stick around for something to “get good.”

But in the last gasps of 2022, one movie managed to be surprising from one scene to the next, and it’s something you would never select on a streaming menu.

The television yule log is a tradition dating back to 1966, so it’s not surprising that Adult Swim would release one. You probably think it would be a roaring fire, some holiday music, and maybe some appearances by Rick and Morty, and that, in fact, is exactly what they did last year. But this year’s log is a surreal horror movie from the director of Too Many Cooks.

If that’s enough to convince you to watch it, then don’t read any further. This is one of the few movies where knowing nothing, not even the basic premise, is the best way to watch it. A blind watch makes every twist and turn all the more exciting. But if you need more convincing, read on, and know that we’ll barely scratch the surface of what the movie touches.

The first three minutes of Adult Swim’s Yule Log, and the only section that’s really a yule log.

Adult Swim’s Yule Log, aka The Fireplace, begins like most yule logs, but slowly we see figures moving between the camera and the fireplace. It also begins like most horror movies: With a murder. The movie is divided into sections, each taking on a new form and often a new genre. We see the first murder while focused on the fire, but then everything changes.

The next section sees the camera zoom out to show the entire room, where two characters discuss what brought them to the cabin where the film is set. As the scene is solely captured by one camera, there are no cuts in the footage, essentially making it a filmed stage play. Then the format shifts to a more traditional single-camera format, changing into a high-octane horror movie involving a cult, a possessed log, and maybe even aliens.

In between all these twists, there’s a surreal Twin Peaks-esque moment that involves a character going back in time and changing the space-time continuum. It would normally feel jarring, but when what started as ambient noise turns into a slasher, you’re merely along for the ride.

In the movie’s second section, the camera zooms out for a long single-shot scene. HBO Max

On top of everything, The Fireplace doesn’t settle for being mindless horror. Through flashbacks and alternate endings, the movie explores racial violence and how we acknowledge what happens in the spaces we occupy. In an early scene, the sheriff and his deputy discuss how a local tree that was used for lynchings had the historic plaque identifying it removed because a wedding venue is nearby. It seems innocuous, but this is the thesis of the whole movie. How do we reckon with the horrors of the past while trying to live a better future?

It’s all wrapped up with a haunting credits song about trauma performed by Puddles Pity Party and written by the movie’s director and writer Casper Kelly: “So you’ve got trauma, tell it to the fire.” It’s clear this movie is more than any unsuspecting viewer bargained for, but it adds some poignant commentary as a bonus. Put it on during your next family gathering and see what happens. It may just start some conversations beyond, “Wait, I thought this was a yule log?”

Adult Swim’s Yule Log aka The Fireplace is now streaming on HBO Max.

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