A Bothered Conscience Movie Review
Written by Steve Pattee
A Smithers Production Production
For a schoolteacher, you can’t read very good. – Keller McGavin
Written and directed by Dennis Smithers, Jr.
2006, 87 minutes, Not Rated
Dennis Smithers, Sr. as Keller McGavin
Stephen Martin as Lucas McGavin (age 25)
Tyler Mickle as Lucas McGavin (age 5)
Macfarland Martin as Caleb Collins
Somewhere in the back woods of Arkansas, there are “No Trespassing” signs posted.
It’s not unusual for such signs to be posted on private property—it tends to be the norm. But what makes this private property different is the owners kill the trespassers.
A father and son team, taking care of business for 20 years. Drug dealers, hunters, teachers. No one is safe when they are on the McGavin land uninvited—and no one is invited.
But when the nephew of a missing person comes to collect his “pound of flesh,” everything changes.
Because the nephew isn’t the only one coming to collect. The victims are, too.
When I received A Bothered Conscience, it came with a brief letter. The first thing in the letter that caught my eye was the fact that it had a budget of $2,300. No big deal, as I’ve seen movies with a budget that was 10 times less, and movies with a budget 10,000 times more. The budget isn’t a reflection of how enjoyable a movie is, it’s simply a guideline of what I should expect.
Hot damn, I wasn’t expecting what I saw.
What I expected was minimal locations, minimal special effects and, well, a $2,300 production.
What I got was pretty good special effects (budget considered), a beautiful location in the Arkansas forests and, amazingly, production values that look a thousand times more than the budget spent.
The kills are great. There are a few times when a scene relies more on your imagination than the visual—which is okay, because, like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you think you are seeing more than you are. But there are also scenes like the schoolteacher’s death that are impressive as hell.
Another thing in the letter that jumped out was one of the lead characters, Keller McGavin (the father) was played by Smithers, Jr., own father. Ugh. “Here we go,” I thought. There are very few worse things a low-budget filmmaker can do than put their family and/or friends in their movie as the lead. Sure, family works on the cheap, but the price filmmakers pay isn’t in money, it’s in the quality of the film.
But as soon as I saw Dennis Smithers, Sr., on the screen, I immediately knew that Dennis Smithers, Jr. knew exactly what he was doing when he cast his father. Senior, with his weather-beaten looks and “don’t you dare fuck with me, boy” demeanor, was born for the role. While there are a few scenes in which his delivery is a little stiff, his intimidating presence easily lets these instances slide. The man has a face and body that have seen hard farm work for the past 100 years, and are looking forward to 100 more. He will kick your ass for looking at him directly in the eye. So don’t.
Stephen Martin, as the 25-year-old Lucas McGavin, does just as well in his role. He is not nearly as intimidating as Senior, and he’s not supposed to be. Martin’s McGavin is every bit weak where Senior’s McGavin is strong. Where Keller is a stone cold killer, Lucas, while a killer, is one who hesitates and obviously lacks the nature to murder. Just like Senior, Martin also has a few scenes where he’s a bit wooden, but, overall, these are easily overlooked.
Hell, Tyler Mickle as the young Lucas even held his own against his older colleagues. Let’s face it, 95 percent of child actors in big-budget movies suck, and I’ve yet to see a capable young actor in a low-budget feature. While Mickle didn’t have any lines, he was more than believable as a child living in fear of his father. And to do that entirely with actions, at such a young age, is admirable in itself.
I’d be ashamed if I didn’t mention Doug Johnson’s work on the editing and sound. Oft times in low-budget films by first- (or second-, or fourth-) time directors, there is no such thing as “pacing,” and they cross the line between suspense and boredom. Conscience does no such thing. The pacing is perfect, never once crossing the line into Hurrythehellupville. In addition, Johnson mixed what is probably the best score I’ve heard into a low-budget film. Perfectly mixing classical with country twang, Johnson knows when to use which flavor, and it’s always appropriate. Conscience is a damn fun movie on its own, but Johnson elevated it to something more. Something better. The movie exemplifies the importance of sound, score and editing.
What’s most interesting about A Bothered Conscience is that, in addition to being a pretty damn good hillbilly hucklebuck slasher, it addresses, in its own way, nature versus nurture. Since he was five, Lucas was hunting poachers with Keller. For over 20 years, the two made sure trespassers got what’s coming to them. But it’s obvious Lucas never took to it. And, to a degree, the movie even answers why.
But, unfortunately, the answer to the question is also the film’s biggest flaw—its ending. The ending just doesn’t work for Conscience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great ending—if Conscience had been a different movie. Instead, the last few minutes of the movie felt forced and contrived. I was reminded of the ending of the British film The Descent (the U.S. version is rumored to have a different ending) when watching Conscience because, overall, you have a solid, solid film, but you are left thinking more about the ending than about the movie itself.
I was going to end my thoughts on the movie there, but then I realized that would leave you, dear reader, thinking about the ending, rather than everything else. Yes, I have a problem with the ending, but take away what’s important, take away the bigger picture:
There are some pretty decent effects.
There is a really good scare involving Lucas in his trailer, when he’s not alone (although he should be).
Dennis Smithers, Sr., rocked. He made the good ole’ boys in Deliverance look like Nancy boys.
The score rocks, the pacing rocks.
I so wanted to give the movie five stars, but the ending does hurt it. That doesn’t worry me too much, though, because it’s obvious Smithers,Jr., will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. He tells a damn good campfire tale.
Just be sure you aren’t trespassing on private property when you hear it.
So, up until the last few minutes, the movie rocks. Leave with that.
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