The Little Things Movie: Who Was the Killer?

By Nathan Johnson Posted:
The Little Things movie poster

2021's The Little Things features a wild ending that leaves the audience wondering about the true identity of the killer.

Showcasing a star-studded cast led by Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, The Little Things originally streamed exclusively on HBO Max (before the service became Max) but was recently added to the Netflix library.

The crime thriller follows Washington's Detective Joe Deacon and Malek's Jim Baxter as they become captivated by a serial killer running rampant in Los Angeles, California.

The Little Things' Controversial Ending

Throughout The Little Things, Deacon and Baxter are trying to find a certain serial killer who the former believes could also be responsible for another murder that took place years ago (due to similar M.O.s).

After one woman is reported missing and the body of another washes up on shore, Deacon and Baxter are led to Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), who they begin to investigate.

Jared Leto as Sparma and Rami Malek as Baxter in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

At the end of the movie, Sparma convinces Baxter to go to the desert with him. He tells the detective that he is the murderer and can prove it by showing Baxter a body.

As Baxter digs for the deceased, Sparma teases him, even bringing up his family. Baxter ultimately snaps and hits Sparma with a shovel, killing the suspect.

Denzel Washington as Deacon and Rami Malek as Baxter in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

Deacon (who has been trying to make his way to the desert) finally arrives, sees what has happened, and immediately starts covering up Sparma's death. Baxter continues to search for the body that Sparma mentioned but never finds anything.

It is then revealed that Deacon himself mistakenly killed someone in the past, accidentally shooting them while on the job. Poetically, this murder was covered up as well, so in a twisted way, Deacon is paying it forward by helping Baxter cover up Sparma's death (especially since it is now unknown if Sparma was the killer at all).

Rami Malek's Baxter holding a red barrette in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

The film then flashes forward to Baxter sitting at home, still with a lot of guilt on his conscience. He then receives a package from Deacon with a red barrette inside. This barrette is important because it was revealed earlier in the film that one of the victims was wearing one when they went missing.

This does provide Baxter with a bit of closure since he is led to believe they found it with Sparma's belongings (indicating that Sparma was, in fact, the killer).

Denzel Washington's Deacon holding a package of barrettes in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

However, in one final twist, a brand-new box of barrettes (with the red one missing) is shown in Deacon's hands, revealing that he bought them just to make Baxter feel better and showcasing one final time that Sparma may not have been the killer.

Who Was The Killer in The Little Things?

Jared Leto as Sparma in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

For most of the film's runtime, all signs pointed to Sparma being the serial killer who was terrorizing Los Angeles. Many viewers likely breathed a sigh of relief when he confessed and said that he could lead Baxter to a body.

However, due to there never being a body in the desert and the fact that they never found any actual evidence of any of the missing girls with Sparma's belongings, that satisfaction was short-lived.

It is possible that Sparma was the killer but was just extremely smart and covered all his tracks. 

There are lots of coincidences throughout the runtime that point to Sparma being the killer, but no hard evidence is found that could possibly convict him of committing the crimes.

For example, the repair company that Sparma works for uses the same type of wire they found on one of the victims. It is also revealed that Sparma becomes sexually aroused when he is shown crime scene photos, and the suspect even knows one of the victims is dead, which is not public knowledge, leading the audience to question how Sparma would know.

However, The Little Things repeatedly established that Sparma liked to taunt the police and thought of the whole situation as one big game, so it is also possible that he was not the killer and just found pleasure in leading the detectives down multiple rabbit holes to throw them off.

Another (not too far-fetched) theory is that Deacon was behind the murders all along and used Sparma to cover himself up.

Deacon didn't have a spotless past, especially since he murdered someone and covered it up himself while also electing to cover up Baxter's accidental killing of Sparma. It almost makes it seem as though Deacon is a little too good at hiding bodies and evidence.

The red barrette only adds more fuel to this theory, as it is possible Deacon bought a pack of them and sent the red one to Baxter to prevent him from investigating the case further.

It is also important to note that one of the victims (Rhonda Rathbun) disappeared the first night that Deacon arrived in the city. It was revealed that the killer was someone who moved around. And considering Deacon was only coming to town to collect evidence, it seems almost too coincidental that the disappearance would occur in the same brief time.

Ultimately, the killer's true identity is left up for interpretation, a move made intentionally by writer/director John Lee Hancock.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hancock stated that he "tried to build in as many things pointing to [Sparma's] guilt as points to his innocence:"

"Honestly, when I wrote it, I just tried to build in as many things pointing to his guilt as points to his innocence. I think there is an equal number of each in the script. I can make an argument either way."

He also described the ending as "ugly" and being "all about the grey," meaning that there isn't supposed to be a right or wrong answer:

"So, it's an ugly ending any way you look at it, it's all about the grey."

That being said, it could be either Sparma or Deacon. However, it is also just as likely that it could be neither of them, and that is exactly the way Hancock intended it to be.

The Little Things is streaming now on Max and Netflix.

- About The Author: Nathan Johnson
Nathan is a writer at The Direct where he covers Star Wars, the MCU, and DC news. He joined The Direct in April 2021 and currently writes news and feature articles about all three brands mentioned above, but his main specialty is his knowledge about anything and everything Star Wars.