For a suspense film exploring some Philosophy 101-level questions about human existence, First Snow has an all-star team: Screenwriting credits go to Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, a duo fresh off their success with Children of Men. Here Fergus makes his directorial debut, with a lead actor who is a poster child for films that wreck your head: Guy Pearce, who floored audiences in 2000's Memento as Leonard, a man unable to form short-term memories.
Snow's questions are far simpler than the dizzy Memento, however, and it's a testament to its personnel that it manages to make simplicity so compelling: Pearce is Jimmy Starks, a smarmy, fast-talking salesman whose car breaks down in the southwestern desert. While waiting on its repair, Starks decides to have his fortune read by a cowboy type who works out of a trailer (J.K. Simmons). The reading ends abruptly and ominously, but then the predicted events begin to occur. Starks also learns that a childhood friend, Vincent, with whom he had a serious falling out, has just been paroled from prison, and becomes convinced that Vincent is going to harm him. And when Starks returns to confront the reader for clues, he learns that he will die soon—when the first snow hits New Mexico.
What follows is a suspenseful, paranoid journey with Starks as he wrestles with the essential question of whether one can change their fate. The rather cliché subject is made riveting with Pearce's superb acting, aided by a so-so Piper Perabo as his girlfriend, and a perfectly cast William Fichtner as his friend and colleague. The ending is, unfortunately, comparatively clumsy, failing to do justice to the momentum that carries the bulk of the story—but despite that kink, First Snow is a promising debut from Fergus, and a continuation of Pearce's winning streak.