The Little Things ending explained: Who is the killer?

rami malek and denzel washington in the little things
The Little Things explained: Who is the killer?Warner Bros.

The Little Things ending spoilers follow.

Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto star in The Little Things, a nail-biting thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end — and afterwards too.

Here we delve into the mysterious finale of the movie, which is available to rent or buy in digital retailers like Amazon. If you're looking for some good thrillers to keep you on the edge of your seat, this is one you need to add to your watchlist.

Now, the story's most pressing question — who is the killer? — is the most difficult one to answer.

This is the type of film that will leave you wondering if you actually missed some clues along the way that might help you unravel its mystery. The ending of The Little Things was always meant to be a little bit ambiguous, though, according to writer-director John Lee Hancock. And there's nothing wrong with that.

rami malek and denzel washington in the little things
Warner Bros.

"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," Hancock told EW following the movie's release in 2021.

"I wanted to try and do something that was different," he added.

Certainly, The Little Things doesn't offer up all its secrets. Now, as many might be wondering, is there an answer to the movie's major question or do we really have to live with the ambiguity?

We try to unravel that ending with all the clues in the story and also Hancock's insights about it.

Major spoilers ahead.

the little things movie jared leto and rami malek
Warner Bros.

The Little Things ending explained: Who is the killer?

A Zodiac-type mystery, the movie centres on two police officers, veteran Joe 'Deke' Deacon (Washington) and rookie Jimmy Baxter (Malek), who are trying to catch a serial killer in 1990s Los Angeles. After a woman named Rhonda Rathbun (Maya Kazan) goes missing, their investigation leads them to a creepy guy, Albert Sparma (Leto), who becomes their main suspect.

But is he really 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.

the little things movie denzel washington and rami malek
Warner Bros.

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?

jared leto, the little things
Warner Bros.

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.

rami malek, the little things
Warner Bros.

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 rent or buy on Amazon, Microsoft Store, iTunes and other digital retailers.

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