‘Scenes from an Empty Church’ Review: Cloistered Filmmaking

“Scenes From an Empty Church” stars three actors — Kevin Corrigan, Thomas Jay Ryan and Max Casella — who emerged as scene-stealers in the 1990s. But watching this proudly pandemic-shot and -set feature from Onur Tukel is like being returned to the locked-down days of 2020. In a decade, the film will serve as a time capsule. But right now, it feels redundant: a dramatization of arguments (about masks, the pandemic’s effects on New York and the value of applauding first-responders at 7 p.m.) that have circulated for too long.

Most of the movie is indeed set at a church — it was shot at the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel on West 34th Street — that has two priests: Father Andrew (Corrigan) and Father James (Ryan). An unseen third has died of Covid-19. The action kicks off when Father Andrew meets up with a friend, Paul (Casella), who insists not only on entering the closed church, but also on going maskless, which upsets Father James.

Father James agrees to let parishioners visit one at a time under strict rules (“if they have a cough, send them off”). And as they arrive, the movie increasingly resembles a feature made solely to prove that limitations were no obstacle. The stopgaps are simply part of the drama. Paul Reiser, as Father Andrew’s dad, appears only in video-chat.

“Scenes” has its moments, as any film that sits Ryan and Corrigan opposite each other in a confessional would. But even special effects near the end play more like the response to a challenge than a spark of inspiration.

Scenes from an Empty Church
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play, FandangoNow and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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