There’s a few too many implied connections uniting the key moments in Argento’s creative life. That might be the most Argento-esque quality of this doc. Like Argento’s best—and some of his worst—“Dario Argento Panico” triumphs by creating a billowy web of insinuations. The topics of Scafidi’s on-camera discussions range from Argento’s collaboration with his ex-partner Daria Nicolodi to the presumed creative dip that occurred, according to the interviewees, right after 1987, when he made “Opera.” I disagree, but I’m somewhat biased. (In addition to writing the program notes for Lincoln Center’s 2022 Dario Argento retrospective, I also interviewed Argento here)
Scafidi’s movie appropriately reflects its director’s neurotic need to show all the different ways you can think about Argento and his art. He covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time and rarely overtaxes viewers’ interest by use of short, punchy soundbites, as well as some entertaining archival footage of Argento, whose celebrity as a horror filmmaker is brought up and then mostly assumed.
“Dario Argento Panico” surpasses expectations as a retrospective docu-appraisal given Scafidi’s uncommon investment in his subjects. He pays tribute to Argento by collecting various personalities and letting their unique points-of-view buffet viewers from one story beat to the next. Like Argento, Scafidi really seems to love his characters as such; he foregrounds their own experiences as a way of enhancing our understanding of who’s talking and what they’re saying.
Scafidi’s movie is most compelling whenever he encourages his interviewees to unpack their varying perspectives, especially in conversation with Asia. It’s a pleasure to see her talk at some length about her father’s movies and not just the ones that she’s in. It’s also hard to imagine “Dario Argento Panico” finding much of an audience beyond the Argento faithful, especially given how much emphasis is put on prevailing theories and ideas of Argento, instead of, say, a more direct look at his movies.
It’s still refreshing to see Scafidi focus so much on testimonials that could have easily been reduced to their quippier highlights. He runs up against the limits of what you can do with the resources available to him. Scafidi also takes full advantage of how much he can do simply by winding up Argento and his loved ones and letting them go for as long as they feel like. The rest is left for viewers to decide.
On Shudder now.