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Daniel Kaluuya

From left, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from ‘Get Out,’ now playing at local theaters. Photo courtesy of Universal

By Daniel Dunaief

Race permeates Jordan Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out” so thoroughly that the film is like a battery, with the white people on one side and the African-Americans on the other. Between them, the electricity of an unusual horror film flows with a shocking effect.

The film starts off with the feel of Sidney Poitier’s masterpiece, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” with Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams, bringing her African-American boyfriend Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents. Even though she says he’s the only African-American man she’s dated, she makes it clear that her parents will be totally cool with her choice and that they’ll support the biracial couple. And yet, the film quickly disposes of any notion of a simple meeting between an African-American man and potentially liberal white America.

Daniel Kaluuya in a hypnotic scene from ‘Get Out’. Photo courtesy of Universal

While Chris meets several African-American people around his girlfriend’s parents’ house, each encounter has a Hitchcock quality, with an eerie disconnect that suggests an unexplained distance.

On the other hand, Rose’s parents and her over-the-top creepy brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who wants to fight with Chris at dinner, introduce a terrifying blend of personalities. Catherine Keener is at her creepy best, playing Rose’s hypnotist mother Missy while Bradley Whitford as Rose’s father Dean seems on the verge of supporting and attacking Chris at the same time.

Chris’s best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who spends much of the movie talking to Chris by cell phone, threatens to steal the movie. A TSA agent, Rod provides comic relief, infusing the movie with humorous lines that seem straight out of a paranoid playbook, until he seems like the only one who might have a clue about what could be going on at Rose’s house.

The movie is a true horror film, which means there’s gore and an undercurrent of violence. Each scene, which occurs in upstate New York, could easily have been filmed in Salem, Massachusetts, home of mass hysteria and witch trials.

As the movie progresses, Peele gradually reviews details about the Armitage family, and the people who share the upstate neighborhood, that blur the line between mundane and creepy. When the plot unfolds, all the details about how Chris and the audience got there become clear.

The final 20 minutes of the film blend horror, gore, comedy and social satire. Some of the particular details of the plot reside in the willing suspension of disbelief. Thinking through the specifics detracts from the film’s value as entertainment and social commentary.

The audience in the packed theater reacted to the climactic scenes of “Get Out” in a way that would likely please Peele, as they shared the drama of a gruesome experience that strays from customary plot points to shocking drama and horror.

While the film offers a disturbing take on race, it also tells a dramatic story that drives the viewer through to the chilling end. While it’s not Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” it does reveal a captivating, literally at times, story that keeps the audience guessing and at times horrified.

The best element of “Get Out” is the balance between horror and comedy, provided primarily by Rod, whose fast-talking, high-pitched responses to situations he senses aren’t what they seem are endearing and amusing.

While “Get Out” offers the audience plenty to ponder after the movie ends, the action and the plot won’t appeal to everyone. It earns its R rating with violence, horror, foul language and dangerous, suspenseful situations. Still, the movie exposes a fresh look at the races, albeit with novel plot devices, and it seemed to satisfy its viewers with unexpected and jarring visuals, music and close-ups.