RATING |

EVER SINCE "28 Days Later" introduced us to the sprinting zombie, they've been running around in movies like the Jamaican track team.

Which is fine, but we've forgotten the slow-burn appeal of the classic Val Lewton zombie plodder - slow of foot, but as inexorable and inevitable as death itself.

It all comes hair-raisingly back in the Cannes smash "It Follows," an unsettling horror movie that borrows from Lewton and John Carpenter and other sources on its way to fashioning its own chilling identity.

The movie has a strange, mashed-up time stamp, though some of the objects and artifacts lead you to believe it's the 1980s, when particular horror themes were ascendant - slasher movies of the time crudely linked sex with death, and that seems to be in play here.

Teen girl Jay (Maika Monroe) gets to home plate with her boyfriend, and learns that the consummation has unleashed on her a kind of chain-letter curse - a shape-shifting entity that will follow her and kill her. Only she can see it.

The thing is slow, she's told, but it's smart, and it never gives up.

It can, however, be redirected - if you have sex with another person, you pass the curse to them, and this looms as a thumpingly obvious metaphor for STDs.

Or . . .

The movie seems to have other things on its mind. There are references to Eliot and Dostoyevsky and characters who are sexually out of sorts. In "It Follows," pre-teen peeping toms spy on Maika in her pool. Kids share bonding stories about finding stashes of pornography. Key clues fall out of dirty magazines.

These cues position "It Follows" as a horror movie about and for what we might call the porn generation - the first to be raised on devices that give them instant access to graphic sexual imagery, which they consume before they have fantasies about sex, a first kiss, a playground romance.

And by sexual imagery I don't mean the quaint, Eisenhower-era still-photo images of Playboy - topless women playing tennis, serving martinis, etc.

I mean full-on porn - shabby digital snippets of grim-faced couplings, enacted by individuals who register contempt more than desire, attraction or affection.

For these children, maybe sex isn't something you seek, it's something that seeks you.

And that's not all that's edging toward the teens in "It Follows."

The movie takes place on the outskirts of Detroit, an old-ring suburb just outside of Eight Mile, where the blight limps toward their neighborhood like a stalking zombie of reverse gentrification.

These images/ideas give the movie striking visual power, at its peak when director David Robert Mitchell positions Jay in a deep-focus field, and we watch to see which of the background figures may be lumbering toward her.

The movie is artful, too artful for some, who point out that it's a bit short on character. That's true. Monroe had a better and more dynamic character to play in last year's "The Guest."

But "It Follows" has genuinely creepy staying power, and Mitchell has grisly movie fun with the idea that the entity is invisible to the "uninfected," and can take the shape of anyone - stranger, friend, family member.

Speaking of family, the teens seem to live in a world without adult supervision (part of the point, I think).

Where, many ask, are the parents?

The movie answers, and brother, you do not want to know.

Blog: philly.com/keepitreel

Online: ph.ly/Movies