For a teenage girl, it can seem as though everyone is a predator. Some are benign, like the boys leering through a fence at the beauty spending some late summer hours in her above-ground pool. Some are much more insidious. A lingering gaze without an invitation can be menacing. And actually letting someone in is, at best, a gamble — one that could turn out disastrously.
It certainly does in "It Follows," a subversively unconventional horror film that plays with those ideas in one of the more brilliant and stylish genre send-ups of recent years.
Writer-director David Robert Mitchell, who gained some attention for his 2010 film "The Myth of the American Sleepover," wastes no time setting the mood with an invigorating prologue.
In a gorgeous, highly choreographed long take, we see a girl in short shorts and high heels burst out of her modest red brick home. She's upset, terrified and running in circles from something we can't see. The quiet dusk of the suburban environs and the pulsating score only add to the anxiety as she takes refuge in the family car and heads to the lake to wait out the night.
You don't have to be a horror expert to guess the next shot.
The terror lingers as we're introduced to our real heroine, Jay, a lithe blonde played by relative newcomer Maika Monroe ("The Guest," ''Labor Day"), bathing in said above-ground pool.
"I see you," she says with resignation to her unwanted audience.
Things are sleepy and dreamy in her Detroit home as she prepares for a date. Jay, at age 19, is self-possessed but still very young. Her suitor Hugh (Jake Weary) is a bit older. It's clear they don't know one another well just yet, but they're getting there.
After a sweet go-around in a car, Hugh accosts Jay with an ether rag. When she wakes, she's tied to a wheelchair in an abandoned, blighted factory in only her bubble gum pink bra and underwear.
Hugh explains that she's going to be followed by something — a supernatural force that only victims see that can take any human form and whose only objective is to kill the afflicted one. It followed him, but he passed it to her, the only way to get rid of it. If it kills her, it'll go after him and then down the line.
Then she sees proof: A menacing naked woman slowly walking toward them.
While this might seem like an exploitative plot device to set up a movie where the pretty young girl has to sleep her way through the town to rid herself of the demon, Mitchell never actually indulges in anything particularly sleazy. Monroe, in particular, has an intoxicating strength that anchors every moment and elevates her character above a scantily clad damsel in distress.
Jay's sister (Lili Sepe) and their friends (Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, and Daniel Zovatto) band together to protect Jay the best they can from something they can't see and that won't actually hurt them. Suddenly we're in a teenage detective story, just one that's also plagued by the oppressive threat that the walker will turn up at any moment.
It's a wildly fun conceit that the thing can only walk and that it might appear as anything from an elderly stranger in a night robe to a boyfriend. While the moments of terror are thrilling, at times the movie seems to be more about the trauma of trusting the wrong person than anything else.
With its steady long shots of a road in motion and lingering takes on Jay's hand caressing water and flowers, Mitchell's atmospheric rendering of "It Follows" gives the film a fanciful, otherworldly feel."
And yet, just like the best horrors, it also might just make you obsessively check who's behind you.
"It Follows," a Radius-TWC release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language." Running time: 100 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted, Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr