From The Walking Dead to the Resident Evil series to this summer’s Brad Pitt flick World War Z, each and every zombie-filled production these days gives us gnarly, evil things just out to eat humans.

But if the Twilight Saga taught us anything (aside from just how dull and mopey vampires can be) it’s that there’s plenty of room for creatures of the night to have a bit of a heart.

Warm Bodies, based on the YA novel by Isaac Marion, takes that a step further and gives us brains, too. Who knew a zombie flick could be both funny (Zombieland, you’ve met your match) and smart?

Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy) stars as ‘R’, a recently deceased young man who spends his days groaning and shuffling around an abandoned airport. But he’s different. His inner monologue tells us that he’s not happy with this ‘life’ and that he yearns for something more.

When he and his zombie buddies trip on a human scavenging party, he first lays eyes on Julie (Take Me Home Tonight‘s Teresa Palmer) and falls in love– well, the closest thing to love that a zombie can feel, anyway. He brings her back to his bachelor pad in an abandoned airplane (“to… keep… safe”), where she slowly starts to realize that he might be craving something other than her blood and guts. Maybe there’s still a little life in him after all.

Director Jonathan Levine, who helmed 2011’s criminally underrated 50/50, creates a love story that whimsically mixes typical zombie violence with laugh-out-loud humor and more heart and tenderness than most romantic comedies these days. He also adapted the screenplay, staying relatively true to the source material and using R’s voice-over narration to anchor the wholly absorbing story.

Hoult, hidden under makeup for most of the proceedings, gives us a zombie who’s not only oddly relatable (“Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right. I’m dead.”) but also pathologically self-conscious, even going so far as to ask the audience to look away when he’s on a killing spree. When’s the last time you thought you’d hear that from a zombie?

Balancing out the other half of moviedom’s contender for both Oddest and Sweetest Couple of the Year, Palmer gives an understated and vulnerable performance, and her chemistry with Hoult is palpable; it’s a driving force of the film’s success. Special mention also goes to Rob Corddry as R’s best friend ‘M’– who brings just the right amount of comic relief.

Sure, there are people who continue to stock their bunkers and prepare for the zombie apocalypse, but Warm Bodies might just start to turn them around. The end of days, it seems, has quite a bit of potential.

4/5 stars