"Mourning Rock" (2024) [Dances With Films]

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In their “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Mourning Rock by director Jeff Wolfe and Wolfepride Productions.

Mourning Rock Park Ranger Neil Morris (Billy Burke) is reeling from the recent loss of his teenage son Ben (Kylr Coffman), amidst an outbreak that is consuming his town. He fights with all he is to save his wife Abby (Alyshia Ochse) and, perhaps, ultimately, himself.

The Good
Joseph: As faithful readers of The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict know well by now, I’m a hard sell on zombie movies. A very hard sell. Exceptions are films that do something original or at least different with the subgenre. So when I say that folks like me who tend to shy away from zombie movies need to see Mourning Rock, you know Wolfe’s feature has impressed me — and this is much more than merely a zombie movie. No spoilers here, but the big reveal behind the film works wonderfully. The performances are all great, with Burke and Ochse delivering superb performances as parents torn apart in different ways by the mysterious disappearance of their son. The members of the sizable supporting cast all turn in solid work, as well. Wolfe, working from a screenplay that he cowrote with Erik Aude and Lance Ochsner crafts well-written and well-acted drama, with Burke and Ochse conveying grief and loss convincingly. Wolfe also shows a great sense of horror and suspense, and the zombie makeup and gore effects look terrific, with credit going to Special Make Up Effects Designer Eddie Yang and the rest of the film’s special makeup artists. The zombie attacks are vicious, and some of the living dead move like victims in possession-horror films, which is a bit different than the usual lumbering types or super-speed zombies.

Mike: I’ll watch just about any zombie movie.  Ever since seeing Night and Dawn of the Dead as a teenager back in the day, I’ve loved the sub-genre.  From modern classics like 28 Days Later (I know, they’re “infected” and not zombies in the pure sense) to forgettable “B movie” fodder that makes films produced by The Asylum look like high art in comparison, I’ve seen more than enough zombie movies.  I say this not as some braggart, but to preface my claim that Morning Rock is an exceptional film.
There’s some great acting on display not just from Billy Burke and Alyshia Ochse as a couple dealing with the grief and mourning of losing a child, but from the supporting cast as well. Everyone involved has given their all in bringing their character to life and it shows through the strained and/or loving relationships the characters have.
Director Jeff Wolfe paces things out pretty well and builds tension when it's called for and has an eye for staging a zombie throwdown.  Couple all of this with some great makeup and FX and you’ve got yourselves a solid zombie film that bucks a few trends and focuses more on the drama of the people but doesn’t shy away from the creatures when needed.

The Bad
Joseph: I don’t have much to say here, my only nitpick being a CGI blood spatter here or there that didn’t seem necessary considering the fine-looking practical effects work elsewhere regarding the red stuff.

Mike: While I cannot for the life of me think of the name of the movie, there’s a film set on a farm that has the same general hook as Mourning Rock does.  While that doesn’t take away from this movie, because I had seen this other film it allowed me to correctly guess what was going on with the outbreak very quickly.  Folks with a keen eye may notice some of the tell tale clues along the way and rush to the same conclusion which I hope folks don’t manage to do as I think they’d be doing themselves a disservice to their enjoyment of such a well-paced and plotted film.

The Verdict
Joseph: One of the stronger zombie films I’ve seen recently — and as I stated earlier, this is far more than simply a run-of-the-mill zombie romp — Mourning Rock boasts heart-wrenching family drama and intriguing character study along with its living-dead mayhem. The third act impressed me greatly, and on a second watch, I found subtle clues that weren’t as apparent as on my first viewing. Strongly recommended for all manner of fear-fare aficionados.

Mike: Mourning Rock is a zombie movie that is more than just a zombie movie.  Some “purists” may take issue with some of the plot points, but there’s a lot going on here to like.  From exceptional performances to a great character study of grief and loss, Wolfe and company have delivered a satisfyingly memorable film that I think horror and thriller fans will enjoy.

Mourning Rock
, from Wolfepride Productions and Silvercrest Entertainment, had its world premiere on Friday, June 21, 2024 at 9:15 PM at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles as part of Dances With Films, which runs June 20–30.

Mourning Rock
Directed By: Jeff Wolfe
Written By: Erik Aude, Lance Ochsner, Jeff Wolfe
Starring: Billy Burke, Alyshia Ochse, Taylor Handley, Raoul Trujillo, Jessica Frances Dukes, Dani Oliveros, Kylr Coffman
Run Time: 1h 25m
Rating: NR  
Release Date: June 21, 2024