Haunted houses and Canadian embassies 

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Horror flicks have been around pretty much since the invention of cinema and the genre is still very much alive and kicking (and murdering, possessing, maiming, raping and butchering).

Why? What is it about scary movies that keep us coming back? I'd suggest, (like I always do) that everything goes back to Hugo Munsterberg's theory that cinema is about shared experiences, primal self-validation that we are not alone in life; that the shared images of the silver screen ward off the solipsist blues.

And certainly, sitting in a dark room and almost shitting yourself in fear at the exact same moment as a few hundred strangers counts as a shared experience. Even with the same, age-old themes of supernatural threats, bloodthirsty monsters and pure human evil being reworked time and time again, a good horror flick stays with you long after the lights come back up.

And there's a pretty good horror flick opening this Friday at the Village 8. Sinister stars Ethan Hawke (Waking Life, Taking Lives) as a washed-up crime writer who purposely moves his unknowing family into a house with a murderous history. Good idea, bad call. Dude hopes he'll be able to write his next epic true-crime book, "This could be my In Cold Blood," but of course it's more like The Shining.

After plenty of moody warnings and some crime drama bits, things go straight to shit when our writer finds a bunch of old Super 8 snuff films and opens a Pandora's Box of creepiness and finds himself and his family smack dab in the scariest horror flick of the year.

Director Scott Derrickson (Exorcism of Emily Rose) co-wrote the script with writer C. Robert Cargill, and dishes up a pretty slick Haunted House film that utilizes, but doesn't sacrifice itself to, the ever-popular "found footage" concept. It treads on territory we've all seen before (certainly there is some Ringu in there) and the musical score telescopes the scares a little too much but overall Sinister is a fresh, haunting, claustrophobic and creepy as hell. This popcorn horror flick is probably the best date movie of the year.

Also opening Friday is Argo, the latest Oscar-bait from Ben Affleck. Based on true events during the Iran Hostage crisis, Argo is a tense political thriller about the covert rescue of six Americans amidst that infamous militant takeover of the US Embassy in Iran in 1979. Affleck stars as a CIA "extradition expert" who devises the best bad-idea plan possible to get his people (who are tucked away in the Canadian embassy) out of danger. He decides to make a fake sci-fi movie and sneak them out as crew. Things get tight.

Affleck is a solid director (Gone Baby Gone, The Town) and he's swinging for the fences here by touching on political emotions that haven't changed much since 1979. Many people in the Arab world are sick and tired of US neo-imperialism (Google "petrodollar warfare") so Affleck's scenes of civil unrest and Ameri-Iranian violence resonate that much more.

Politics and cinema have a unique relationship; both are high-level storytelling, and Affleck's mix here is near-perfect (maybe a tiny bit too 'rah-rah-rah'). But regardless of its politics, Argo is a slick, smart heist movie with a wicked soundtrack that walks that line of humour and tension near perfectly. With a solid cast and really crisp direction, this one is an early front-runner come awards season.

Download of the week is Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, the second best date movie of the year.

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