It's probably not a good date if it ends with your face in a chloroform-soaked rag, your wrists strapped to the arms of a chair, being wheeled into a desolate underpass. But Hugh (Jake Weary) - who seemed like a nice guy, really, he did - has his reasons.

And Jay (Maika Monroe), the unfortunate college coed who went to the movies with the attractively older, attractively mysterious fellow, now has a nightmare on her hands, and in her head. Like a game of tag, she's the new "it." Or, more accurately, she's the one who has inherited the "it" - a thing that takes the form of other people (an old woman, a stranger, a friend) and comes at her, relentlessly, with evil on its mind.

A masterfully creepy and beautifully turned variation on the teen horror formula, It Follows borrows - in knowing but unpretentious ways - from David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, from John Carpenter and the kinds of vintage black-and-white monster movies that show up late at night, flickering with jokey menace, on Jay and her pals' TV screens.

Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, whose 2010 debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover, wowed audiences at SXSW and Cannes, It Follows has the vivid immediacy of a dream, and the inescapable logic of one, too. Maybe all Jay needs to do is wake up. But in this strikingly photographed indie - set in the tidy suburbs of Detroit, in the ruined outskirts of the city, and along the shore of Lake Michigan - coming out of a dream doesn't appear to be an option.

Running for your life does.

Jay has a good support group: her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), her bookish friend Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and the moony-eyed Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who has been crushing on Jay since ninth grade. None of them is sure what's going on. Is Jay having a breakdown? Too much stress from school, where her English professor reads aloud from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? Maybe he's going to ask her to stand up and recite the "ragged claws" stanza?

But as the titular entity of Mitchell's movie asserts itself, the reality, and surreality, of the situation become clear. Escape, and desperately hurling hair dryers, lamps, and electrical appliances into a swimming pool where the thing might be doing the Australian crawl become a matter of survival.

The matters of sex and lost innocence work like a thematic undertow, pulling the characters down into the dark, psychological depths.

It Follows ***1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by David Robert Mitchell. With Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi. Distributed by Radius TWC.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, sex, profanity, adult themes).

Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.EndText