*A guest review today, from Nick Schager, of Slant Magazine
On the evidence of First Snow, it's apparent that Mark Fergus is a devoted student of classic crime cinema. For his directorial debut, the filmmaker (re-teaming with his Children of Men screenwriting partner Hawk Ostby) delivers a streamlined, straightforward slice of "Sunshine Noir," a sub-genre in which noir's pessimistic thematic preoccupations are transplanted from the shadowy night to the blisteringly bright daytime. As in Fergus' film, this shift also often involves a milieu relocation from the seedy, malevolent city to the imposingly empty rural wasteland, with the omnipresent air of gloom and calamity found not beneath towering skyscrapers and in darkened alleys but, rather, just behind scraggly tumbleweed bushes, across the horizon-seeking interstate, and around the corner from the dilapidated gas stations that sit, like ominous oases, in the middle of the vast nowhere.
Such a fill-up station is the starting point for the turbulent journey of Jimmy (Guy Pearce), a cocky, fast-talking flooring salesman who dreams of making it big selling classic Wurlitzer jukeboxes, and who becomes stranded at an out-of-the-way New Mexico rest stop after his car hits a (literal and figurative) bump in the road. While waiting for repairs, Jimmy entertains himself by having his fortune read by a laid-back psychic named Vacaro (J.K. Simmons), though his mockery of the man's supposed supernatural gifts come to a halt when – after offering up some cryptic comments about impending events – the seer is overwhelmed by violent seizures and, consequently, halts the reading and returns Jimmy's money. Simultaneously amused and mildly annoyed, the salesman nonetheless thinks little of the encounter until the prophesies begin coming true, prompting a return visit to Vacaro during which he's told that death shall arrive with the season's first snowfall.