Guy Pearce's taut, bony features and intense interior mien make the actor a natural lead in suspense thrillers. In First Snow he delivers a gripping performance of uptight muscularity in an engrossingly well-plotted if occasionally wobbly suspense drama redolent of a good bitterly ironic Stephen King short story. Pearce plays Jimmy Starks, a slick but vacant Albuquerque flooring salesman. With his preening confidence, long hair, dirty dress shirts, and sketchy dream to "make it" by unloading a stash of vintage Wurlitzer jukeboxes, Jimmy resides within a familiar realm of attractive B-movie lowlifes. When his car breaks down near a desert outpost, he fills the time by visiting a fortune teller (J.K. Simmons) operating out of a mobile home. The teller makes a couple of innocuous predictions and then undergoes a kind of seizure and abruptly ends the session. After resuming his normal life, Jimmy starts seeing grim portents in everyday occurrences and the paranoia chips at his cool facade. In desperation, he returns to the teller, who informs him that he sees no future for Starks past the first snowfall. For the remainder of the picture, Jimmy tries to figure out how he'll die and how to stop it, which eventually leads him to a dark secret in his past. Director Mark Fergus keeps enough threads running -- dishing out clues, drawing the audience -- to make for an enticing, if modest, thriller. He's particularly skillful at using close-up cutaways, obstructed views, and minimal sound design to give a sense of menace to every stray shoe, topless bar sign, and distant car shudder. Pearce similarly starts out broad and charismatic, commanding and pulling the audience into his character's story while gradually revealing the psychology within. He's supported by a fine collection of character actors, including Simmons and William Fichtner as Jimmy's equally smarmy but warm-hearted co-worker. (However, the girlfriend part, played by Piper Perabo, is horribly underwritten.) Such carefully plotted teasers tend to break down when the final reveal can't surpass the potential horrors brewing in the audience's imagination. And toward the end the film unravels a bit as the outcome becomes predictable. As a cautionary tale against tempting fate, it may be a bit hackneyed, but as a nail-biting depiction of one man fighting violent paranoia, First Snow is pleasantly small-scaled and self-contained.