Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies.

The movie year gets it first big, sweet surprise with Warm Bodies, a funny and surprisingly moving take on the zombie genre from director Jonathan Levine, who gave us the wonderful 50/50.

To call Warm Bodies a straight-up zombie flick would be inaccurate; it’s a love story set in a horror-movie world. It’s everything the Twilight saga wanted to be, but failed to become. It’s a movie that knows it is ridiculous, embraces its ridiculousness, and emerges as astonishingly real and true-to-life.

The movie opens on a figure in a red-hoodie we will come to know as R (Nicholas Hoult, in a stardom-cementing role). He’s zombie with a fried memory, but he’s still able to conduct a relatively cohesive inner narrative, heard through a voiceover that is clear and concise. However, when R tries to speak out of his mouth, he slurs, moans and groans.

He’s a lost boy in a zombie world yearning to articulate. He’s also a collector, residing in an abandoned jet, surrounded by trinkets and vinyl albums. (Of course vinyl is the music delivery mode of choice for zombies. In R’s opinion, vinyl is more “alive.”)

Enter Julie (Teresa Palmer, finally getting a role she deserves), a human survivor and the daughter of an emotionally dead general (John Malkovich). On patrol for medicine, her band of humans is attacked, and her boyfriend (Dave Franco) loses his life—and his brains—in the melee. R and Julie’s eyes meet in the aftermath, and R immediately starts to change.

George Romero fans looking for zombie thrills might find themselves slightly disappointed. The movie is rated PG-13, so brains get eaten in a fashion that’s almost gentle, and the zombie makeup is far from gory. I must also mention that the “Bonies,” zombies who have degenerated to the point of being skeletons, look terrible. They are the sort of CGI creation that stops a movie in its tracks whenever they pop up.

Some zombie purists might find it silly that R can eat a brain, and then feel and see the memories of his victim. For those of you who criticize, I would like to remind you that you are watching a movie in which THE DEAD HAVE COME BACK TO LIFE AND ARE WALKING AROUND.

Hoult and Palmer have adorable chemistry. This is a thinly veiled Romeo and Juliet replay, and the two even have a balcony scene. R doesn’t remember his full name, only that his name starts with R. Julie is a play on Juliet, of course, and Rob Corddry plays R’s best zombie friend, M (Mercutio … right?).

Speaking of Corddry, he owns his scenes. The man is so gifted as a comedic actor, and as he showed in Hot Tub Time Machine, he can handle the emotional stuff with major finesse. Like R, M and his band of zombies begin to awaken and heal themselves when they remember what love is. It’s goofy, but Corddry sells it with humor and soul. Also excellent in a supporting role is Analeigh Tipton as Nora, Julie’s best friend, confidant and laugh-getter.

Hoult and Palmer both have thick accents in real life (Hoult is British; Palmer is Australian), but you can’t tell from this movie. (They both sport American accents.) Hoult spends much of the movie sweetly trying to express himself like a love-struck teen who can’t put the words together. Palmer is so damned stunning that many can identify with his struggle to get the words right. They are one of the more endearing screen couples in years—and one of them is dead with all kinds of icky veins all over his neck. That doesn’t say much for the state of American romance movies.

The film is based on author Isaac Marion’s novel. He is apparently working on a sequel, and you can already read a prequel to his novel called The New Hunger, available on his website.

If you are a proud Twilight hater like me, you can rest assured that Warm Bodies has very little in common with that cinematic sludge. This is a refreshing, heartwarming, humorous take on a society that has become emotionally stagnant and is in severe need of reanimation. You might find yourselves looking at your smartphone a little less after seeing this one.

Warm Bodies is now playing at theaters throughout the valley.