Life sucks when you're dead, but the future starts to look a lot healthier for teenage zombie 'R' (Nicholas Hoult) when he rescues the living girlfriend (Teresa Palmer) of one of his victims. Together they show that with trust, hope and a cool record collection, the world can change in a heartbeat. But as leader of the war on the undead, her dad (John Malkovich) is going to take some convincing. A strangely engaging mix of romance and splatter, think Romeo and Juliet as envisioned by George A Romero.
Starting with the least meet-cute encounter ever, Warm Bodies injects much-needed life into a genre crushed to a sugary pulp under the juggernaut of Nicholas Sparks.
Okay, so the dead boy-meets-living girl routine has already been done in Twilight, but would things have turned out quite so cosy for Edward and Bella had their eyes first met across a bullet-riddled room... just after he'd chomped out her boyfriend's brains? Exactly.
Combining elements from all his previous movies - the gristly horror of All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, the teenage angst of The Wackness, the mordant wit of 50/50 - writer-director Jonathan Levine gets the balance just right in this adaptation of Isaac Marion's cult zomance.
Thanks to an apocalyptic plague, humankind has been largely zombified, forcing the living to barricade themselves into cities while the undead sniff around hungrily outside.
But, as proved by our hero and narrator 'R' (Hoult), the infected are not all as mindless as they look. Unfortunately, retaining the power of thought means he spends an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on how desperately dull it is to be dead.
Yet he still has hope. Unlike the fearsome "bonies", zombies who have abandoned their last shreds of flesh and humanity.
Of course, even higher functioning ghouls have to eat and it's while out looking for fresh meat with his pal 'M' (Rob Corddry) that R meets the girl of his dreams (Teresa Palmer, I Am Number Four) - or whatever passes for dreams to beings who don't sleep.
Her name is Julie (making the Shakespearean connection yet?), a living, breathing human on the hunt for medical supplies as part of a mission led by her soldier boyfriend Perry (Dave 'brother of James' Franco).
Alas, when the parties collide, Perry doesn't make it. But his brains taste great. And after absorbing his memories, R is gripped by the urge to protect the maiden fair.
After sneaking back to his pad - an old 747 - the awkwardness between them gradually disappears. From his chivalry to his appreciation of vinyl, he proves remarkably sensitive for a guy who can't feel anything. She, meanwhile, gives him a new lease of life.
But all other obstacles aside, there's no getting around Julie's military leader dad (Malkovich). Bonies or regular deadheads, the only cure he's interested in finding for them comes from the barrel of a gun.
While the splicing of star-cross'd romance with zombie action offers countless opportunities to go crazy, Warm Bodies sticks to surprisingly straightforward structural lines. But it's still smarter than the average Friday nighter, and far more engaging than any of the bland mush you'll find in Dear John's Last Song and Notebook.
Paler and more interesting than he ever was in Skins, Hoult generates an endearingly stilted chemistry with rising Aussie star Palmer (whose resemblance to Kristen Stewart won't have hurt her casting).
Levine also creates a visual tone - washed out but with warmth under the surface - to fit a script filled with cool ironies and knowing winks to his sources. And lo, there's even a balcony scene.
Eat your heart (and brains) out, Kenneth Branagh.