John Lee Hancock‘s The Little Things premiered in 2021 to mixed reviews, but has grown to develop a cult following in the years since. The psychological thriller, which centers on a disgraced LAPD officer investigating a twisted serial killer, ends with a number of shocking twists, and an unsolved mystery that leaves as many questions as answers for the audience at home. There are currently no talks of a sequel or additional franchise film, meaning The Little Things stands entirely alone as a single package, loose ends and all.

Given that the film’s ending is so divisive, it seems like the perfect movie to dissect here, with each plot thread laid bare for a microscopic examination. Be advised that the following write-up contains heavy spoilers and speculative analysis for The Little Things, so it may be prudent to bookmark this page and return once you’ve streamed the film on Netflix or Max if you haven’t already seen it. Without further ado, let’s dive into the plot synopsis and work through the film’s final moments.

Plot Details

The narrative of The Little Things begins as a teenage girl evades a crazed motorist who stalks her as she flies down the highway in her car. After arriving at a gas station, the young woman manages to flag down a truck driver, and ultimately escapes the would-be killer who was pursuing her. The film then jumps forward in time, and introduces the audience to Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon, as expertly portrayed by legendary actor Denzel Washington. Deacon joins Rami Malek’s detective Jimmy Baxter to the scene of a Los Angeles murder, where the pair uncover evidence linking the case to a string of serial murders Deacon was previously unable to crack.

As the film goes on, we learn that Deacon was so plagued by his failure to solve the earlier case that he suffered from cardiac arrest, and the ensuing stress destroyed his marriage. Later on in the film, it is revealed via flashback that Deacon accidentally shot the lone survivor of a previous investigation, which he then covered up, much to the chagrin of his own psyche.

Regardless, Deacon takes a leave of absence from his active work to invest fully in the case, which sees another victim, named Ronda Rathbun, claimed the following morning. Baxter and Deacon suspect that a local beatnik named Albert Sparma may be the killer, and begin to investigate him voraciously. Sparma, who is played chillingly by Jared Leto, continually taunts the officers and seems to derive pleasure from their frustration. After pulling up Sparma’s record, the detectives learn that he has a penchant for confessing to murders that he didn’t commit, as part of some kind of sick ritual to derail police investigations. Furthermore, his fingerprints are similar to those recovered at the crime scene, but are not a direct match.

The Shocking Turning Point

Undeterred by Sparma’s antics, the detectives resolve to perform an illegal uncleared search of the perp’s apartment, which ultimately reveals no further evidence. Enraged, Baxter corners Sparma and demands to know what he’s done with Rathbun’s body. Sparma claims that he killed and buried her, only to take back his confession after Baxter attempts to exhume her body. This sends Baxter over the edge, causing him to strike Sparma with a shovel, killing him instantly. Deacon helps Baxter cover up the extrajudicial killing, and collects a number of belongings from Sparma’s home while Baxter buries the body.

Baxter continues searching for the body of Ronda Rathbun, in a desperate bid to assuage himself of the guilt he faces from botching the investigation. Deacon recognizes this guilt, mirroring his own professional demons. After parsing through Sparma’s belongings, Deacon sends Baxter an envelope containing a red barrette, identical to the one worn by Rathbun when she went missing. In the final moments of the film, we see Deacon disposing of a brand new pack of barrettes, while he burns the last of Saprma’s things.

‘The Little Things’ Ending Explained

Neither Deacon, nor Baxter, nor the audience learn the true identity of the killer once The Little Things concludes. While this lack of closure may be frustrating to some viewers, it illustrates a likeness to the true mysteries of life. If Sparma was in fact the murderer, justice was served, albeit in a roundabout way which violates his constitutional right to a trial, and inadvertently aggrandizes acts of police violence. If Sparma was not the killer, then Baxter must wrestle with his deeds for the rest of his life.

Regardless, Deacon opts to intervene in the case with a piece of planted evidence in order to put Baxter’s mind at ease. Both detectives carry with them an innate urge to find closure within the case, though their actions become the very reason that closure is ultimately impossible to achieve. The film also serves as an analysis of the human psyche. Whether Sparma is the killer or not, it can’t be denied that he has deep-seated mental issues, as he seems to derive sexual pleasure from images of the bloodied victims, and the frustration of the investigating detectives. The detectives have issues of their own as well, as demonstrated by their willingness to bend the rules to get results.


While it may be compelling to see police officers skip warrants and subvert red tape in the movies, we know all too well that this results in innocent people facing harassment and violence in real life. When the two detectives in The Little Things eschew police policy to entrap Sparma, the viewer concedes that this is only acceptable if it results in a violent murderer being taken off the streets. Otherwise we’re watching a movie about a pair of LAPD detectives who take it upon themselves to harass and eventually murder an innocent man, all on the basis of an assumption of wrongdoing.

While Deacon’s gesture with the barrette offers closure to Baxter, it may serve as the basis for bigger problems down the line. This is illustrated by the fact that, if Sparma was truly innocent, then the real killer is still on the loose. The film concludes before the dust settles on the case, but it can be assumed that Baxter quietly files the serial slayings as a cold case, laboring under the assumption that he has solved the matter privately.

The Little Things is truly a head-trip, best enjoyed in the company of friends. If you catch this film alone at night before going to bed, you may find yourself riddled with nightmares. Regardless, the movie ends ambiguously, providing audiences with a never-ending series of “what if’s” to pontificate to one another, meaning we may well be discussing the final act of this film decades down the line.