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Netflix’s No. 1 Hit ‘Reptile’: Crazy Ending Explained

Solving the mystery of Netflix’s hit movie (beware spoilers!)


spinner image benicio del toro pulls down his glasses in a scene from the netflix film reptile
Benicio Del Toro stars as Tom Nichols in "Reptile."
Netflix

Netflix’s new crime thriller Reptile, starring Benicio Del Toro, 56, as a former big-city police detective investigating a young Maine real estate agent’s brutal murder, quickly became its number 1 movie, with 17 million views. It’s a sleeper hit, hated by most critics and not heavily publicized like a blockbuster.

But it’s no mystery why 74 percent of viewers liked it on Rotten Tomatoes. Grant Singer, who cowrote the script with Del Toro and Benjamin Brewer, hits all the elements of classic film noir: a twisty plot with multiple suspects, an intrusive musical score and a shockingly violent ending, where a Frisbee plays a decisive role. And Del Toro — who got a best supporting actor Oscar for Traffic, a nomination for 21 Grams and a best actor win at Cannes for Che — delivers a terrific performance as a taciturn cop who becomes even more guarded as he begins to suspect that just about everyone may be in on a giant criminal conspiracy — even his wife (spunky Clueless star Alicia Silverstone)!

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The movie’s ending, however, left some viewers feeling bewildered, flung by the hairpin turn of one fast plot twist too many. AARP hereby clarifies the meaning of Netflix’s hottest, out-of-nowhere hit.

Warning: Big spoilers ahead!

Who are the suspects?

At first, Del Toro’s Detective Tom Nichols zeroes in on three likely stabbers of Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz). There’s Summer’s boyfriend, Will Grady (Justin Timberlake), who works with Summer at his family’s real estate agency. There’s Summer’s heroin-dealer ex, Sam (Karl Glusman). And there’s a stringy-haired stalker, Eli (Michael Carmen Pitt), who blames the Grady firm for his father’s suicide over a lost property.

How does the suspect list grow?

spinner image eric bogosian stars as captain robert allen in the netflix film reptile
Eric Bogosian stars as Capt. Robert Allen.
Kyle Kaplan/Netflix

Tom stumbles upon the idea that Summer was killed to protect a conspiracy involving the Gradys’ drug-laundering sideline. His best bud on the force, Wally (Domenick Lombardozzi), may be in on the take, or even avuncular Captain Robert Allen (Eric Bogosian, 70), who’s literally his wife’s uncle. What about the chief of police (Mike Pniewski)? How high up does the corruption go?

In a recent interview with the Netflix site Tudum, director Grant Singer compared Tom’s situation to the classic 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby: “You realize, ‘Oh my God, they’re all involved,’ right? What Benicio’s character is facing is that he realizes it’s much more of a conspiracy, and that there’s much more culpability from all these different people that he trusted.”

So what about that controversial ending?

spinner image justin timberlake stars as will grady in reptile
Justin Timberlake plays Will Grady in "Reptile."
Daniel McFadden/Netflix

In the climactic scene, Tom goes to Robert’s house to confront him about the clue in Robert’s garage (a Chrysler) that points to the captain’s role in the scheme — and the police chief’s.

But perhaps from guilt or loyalty, Robert urges Tom to run. Tom’s pal Wally shoots Robert dead. Tom then takes out the police chief and confronts Wally — who gets distracted by a Frisbee thrown by some neighborhood kids. Tom escapes. Will Grady gets arrested on a golf course for Summer’s murder.

What happened to the other suspects?

spinner image michael carmen pitt stars as eli phillips in the netflix film reptile
Michael Carmen Pitt (left) as Eli Phillips in "Reptile."
Eli Joshua Ade/Netflix

Earlier in the film, Sam, Summer’s ex, is shot and killed in a standoff with Tom and his partner — though Tom comes to believe that he was just trying to keep them from finding his huge stash of heroin. And there’s a strong suggestion that Eli, too, has been killed after he hands Tom an incriminating flash drive exposing the whole laundering scheme. We see Eli threatened in his home by Will and a shadowy third figure (perhaps the chief of police?) — and then he disappears from the movie. Tom finds his home empty and an empty container of bleach in a bathroom sink, with the heavy suggestion of foul play.

The ambiguity about Eli’s fate is deliberate. “One of the things I love about movies is that they can be enigmatic, you can leave viewers with questions,” Singer told Tudum.

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Why is the film called Reptile?

Summer stumbles on a shed snake skin in a house she’s showing to prospective buyers — which becomes a metaphor for how slippery all the characters are to pin down, as well as how cold-blooded they can be. “Characters are introduced as one thing and revealed to be something else,” Singer told Tudum. “Some of the most unethical people in the film can be very likable in moments.”

What’s with the faucet?

spinner image benicio del toro and alicia silverstone standing nearby each other at a kitchen island with coffee cups in a scene from the netflix film reptile
(Left to right) Benicio Del Toro and Alicia Silverstone
Daniel McFadden/Netflix

Tom admires the pristine, HGTV-worthy appearance of Will Grady’s sleek home. “I love this kitchen,” he tells his partner, lingering over a fancy, touch-free faucet. He and his wife have been discussing a kitchen remodel, and we later see him scrolling through online sites checking out faucets. In the final shot of the film, we see Tom washing his wounded hand at his newly finished kitchen sink, activating the water flow with a motion-sensor faucet like the one he had admired earlier.

For Singer, the detail is part of breaking the stereotype of a detective who exclusively lives and breathes his job. “Yeah, he’s invested in the case, but he also has a three-dimensional life, where he’s remodeling his kitchen and he’s into the nice things,” the director told Tudum.

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