Reptile: Ending Explained (In Detail)

Why was Summer Elswick murdered? What is the larger conspiracy afoot?
Reptile: Ending Explained (In Detail)

After over a decade of having directed music videos featuring the likes of Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Sam Smith, Grant Singer took the plunge into feature filmmaking, penning Reptile — a story with Benjamin Brewer, following which the duo fleshed out the screenplay with Benicio del Toro, who also starred in the film. Supporting del Toro were musician-actor Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits, The Social Network) and Alicia Silverstone (The Crush, Batman & Robin).

The Scene of Crime

The film begins with Will Grady (Timberlake) discovering his girlfriend Summer Elswick’s (Matilda Lutz) body in a house which the couple had been showing prospective buyers as realtors. The local police assign the case to detectives Tom Nichols (del Toro) and Dan Cleary (Ato Essandoh), who question Grady about his relationship with Summer: He reveals to them his wish to have married her, which was road-blocked by the fact that she was yet to be formally divorced from Sam Gifford (Karl Glusman). 

The police also look into a vehicle that was caught on surveillance cameras which Nichols’ wife (Silverstone) identifies as a Chrysler Imperial, helping him and Cleary close down one element of the investigation.

At Summer’s funeral, Grady points the detectives in the direction of one Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt), who tried to enter Grady’s mother’s house forcibly a while ago. Grady adds that his family construction firm had forcibly acquired Phillips’ family farm, which had caused Phillips’ father to commit suicide. Phillips thus naturally holds Grady and his family responsible. When questioned by the detectives, Phillips in turn accuses Grady of having killed Summer, while also revealing to Nichols that he has looked him up and found some interesting information about a case of corruption that Nichols’ partner in Philadelphia was involved in. 

Post-mortem reports reveal that Summer recently had sex with Sam, which is backed up by a statement from one of Summer’s friends. When the detectives arrive at Sam’s to take him into custody, an altercation breaks out and Nichols shoots dead an escaping Sam.

The Plot Thickens

Sam is declared the murderer and the case is shut but Nichols is far from satisfied with the neatly wrapped-up conclusion he is being forced to present. Phillips drops by one night and hands him a pen drive that contains evidence of how Summer was ensnared into a scheme the Gradys had concocted to launder drug money: The process involved planting contraband substances in houses and then calling the cops, following which a civil asset forfeiture procedure would ensure the house being sold off at very low rates, which is when the Gradys would swoop in and snap it up. The evidence points to a shell company called “White Fish” being the conduit for the Gradys’ illegal activities. Summer had apparently decided to call in the Drug & Enforcement Agency, and was murdered to stop that from happening.

Further investigation leads Nichols and Cleary to their colleague Wally Finn (Domenick Lombardozzi), who owns a private security agency that uses the same post box as White Fish. Meanwhile, Phillips disappears soon after Grady shows up to his house demanding the evidence he has handed over to Nichols, whose subsequent check of Phillips’ house reveals an empty residence with a kitchen that has just been cleaned, as well as a bottle of bleach lying nearby.

At a birthday party for Nichols’ immediate boss Allen (Eric Bogosian), he tries to speak to Allen about his findings but stumbles upon a Chrysler Imperial. Allen finds him and, having put two and two together, suggests that Nichols leave things be.

The Final Showdown

Nichols rushes home to his wife and tells her that they must leave town at the earliest because of what he has uncovered during the investigation, which he now lays out before her. Allen cuts into their departure with a phone call and an invitation to Nichols to come over the next day, when Allen hopes to explain everything. Nichols agrees.

The next day, he hands over the pen drive to the police chief Graeber (Mike Pniewski) and the two of them make for Allen’s home. Upon arrival, Graeber excuses himself to use the bathroom. Allen pleads with Nichols to leave town and save his skin before suddenly heading upstairs. Gunshots from the floor above alert Nichols to the possibility of trouble, and he rushes to confront Graeber in the bathroom, shooting him dead before Graeber can fire his weapon. Upstairs, he finds Finn, who had been hiding there and killed Allen when he came up. Instead of killing him, Nichols fires at Finn with the intent to injure, thus leaving a trail for a subsequent investigation to tie things up.

The film ends with Grady, who is at a golf course, being taken into custody by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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