The Little Things ending has been leaving viewers with some major questions since it landed on Netflix UK in September.
Starring Denzel Washington and Rami Malek, the thriller’s mysterious ending is exactly how writer-director John Lee Hancock wanted it.
“I always felt there would be a section of the audience that would prefer a very formulaic ending and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he told EW. “I wanted to try and do something that was different.”
A Zodiac-type mystery movie, which is now one of the best thrillers on Netflix, The Little Things doesn’t give you the easy answer to its central mystery, centred on two police officers, veteran Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) and rookie Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), trying to catch a serial killer in 1990’s Los Angeles.
After a woman named Rhonda Rathbun (Maya Kazan) goes missing, their investigation leads them to a creepy guy, Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), who becomes their main suspect. But is he really the killer?
With some major spoilers, we’re going to dig into the ending of The Little Things ending to try and offer up some clarity.
The Little Things ending explained: Who is the killer?
After we’ve followed Deacon and Baxter through the investigation, it becomes clear they strongly believe Sparma is the killer. There are no other suspects, no other possibilities.
And, honestly, Sparma doesn’t seem too bothered about proving his innocence. Even if he has stated several times that he didn’t kill anybody, he certainly seems amused by the situation.
After failing to find any evidence during an illegal search of the suspect’s house, the police officers feel they’ve hit a brick wall.
Desperate to find answers before the FBI takes over the investigation, Baxter corners Sparma alone, asking him to reveal Rathbun’s location, dead or alive. Sparma admits he knows where her body is, and offers to drive Baxter there.
He accepts, as Deacon follows them closely with his car.
Out in the desert, Sparma tells Baxter where to dig, which he does while Sparma taunts him relentlessly. It’s when he mentions Baxter’s daughters, saying he’s not fit to protect them, that the policeman snaps.
Baxter hits Sparma with the shovel, and kills him.
Deacon arrives on the scene and helps him cover it up. It’s not the first time he sees himself in that situation. A flashback from five years earlier reveals Deacon accidentally shot dead one of the missing girls he was trying to find, thinking she was an attacker.
His boss Farris (Terry Kinney) and coroner Dunigan (Michael Hyatt) covered up the murder then, and Deacon does the same now for Baxter, telling him to forget this ever happened.
After all, they are convinced Sparma is indeed guilty, so he’s better off dead. But was he the killer?
In the last scene of The Little Things, Baxter is at home when he gets a package from Deacon containing a red hair clip, identical to the one Rhonda Rathbun was wearing when she disappeared.
Another flashback shows Deacon burning all of Sparma’s things, including a package of hair clips, where the red one is missing.
Deacon wants Baxter to feel he did the right thing, that he caught the killer and imparted justice, even if illegally.
However, this is just an illusion that not even Baxter really believes, if we take his facial expression in that scene as an indicator. The truth is Deacon bought that box of hair clips. He didn’t find it in Sparma’s house, otherwise they would have had enough evidence to bring him to justice.
This ending implies something some viewers might find unsatisfying: we don’t know who the killer was, and we never will.
Sure, Sparma looked guilty enough, whether he had the red hair clip or not, so we can choose to believe he was the killer. We can also look closely at the evidence and determine that him being the main suspect was due to a lack of other possibilities and the growing obsession of two very frustrated policemen.
Either way, The Little Things wants you to live with the ambiguity. “Honestly, when I wrote it, I just tried to build in as many things pointing to his guilt as points to his innocence,” Hancock told EW.
“I think there is an equal number of each in the script. I can make an argument either way. I mean, he does say, ‘I’ve got to work tomorrow, come on let’s go,’ which is a hint that nothing’s going to happen out there. If he was taking him out there to go and find a body, then he certainly wouldn’t be going to work the next day. Or is he lying?”
It looks like each viewer will have to decide for themselves what to believe. Or just forget about it and move on to the next crime thriller.
The Little Things is available to watch on Netflix UK.