The trouble starts in "It Follows" as it does in many horror films -- with sex. Jay, a pretty and somewhat thoughtful college student played by Maika Monroe, is on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), a scruffy charmer. A few beers precede a smooch, which leads to the back of Hugh's car.

This is where Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers usually show up to slaughter our young lovers. His ostensible reasons vary -- psychosis, occultism, misplaced anger -- but we know deep down that he is punishing the promiscuous. The slasher is a metaphor for The Consequences.

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"It Follows" has a different metaphor, at once more vague and more chillingly explicit. "This thing, it's gonna follow you," Hugh confesses before Jay can even re-dress. "Somebody gave it to me, and I passed it to you." Yes, Jay could give it to someone else -- but if that partner dies, "it" will come right back to Jay.

That's a nifty, near-brilliant idea from second-time filmmaker David Robert Mitchell ("The Myth of the American Sleepover"). A low-budget, youth-oriented horror movie, "It Follows" takes the sexual anxieties of a generation -- AIDS and HIV, obviously, but also issues of power, exploitation and shame -- and transforms them into a creepy bogeyman.

As Jay is increasingly haunted by zombielike specters who resemble friends and loved ones, she must grapple with moral questions: Should she pass "it" on to lovestruck Paul (Kier Gilchrist), who would willingly die for her? Or might the neighborhood ladies' man, Greg (Daniel Zovatto), be a better choice?

Mitchell, inspired by indie-horror auteurs like George Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven, makes maximum use of his limited budget. Torn clothes and a little eye-black create some ghastly ghouls. The synth-driven score, by the band Disasterpiece, lends a sinister ambience. The suburban streets and decaying inner city of the Detroit area (playing itself) are evocatively filmed.

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"It Follows" promises more than it delivers. The climax, an elaborate plan to trap and kill "it," loses sight of the film's heady concept and resorts to genre cliches. Still, "It Follows" is so moody, atmospheric and often riveting that it's worth sharing with others.