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Breaking Down the Ending of Eli Roth’s New Holiday Slasher Thanksgiving

5 minute read

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Thanksgiving.

Sprinkled throughout Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 double-feature extravaganza Grindhouse are a series of B-movie-style fake trailers directed by a lineup of renowned genre filmmakers. In the 16 years since the film's release, two of those trailers—Rodriguez's Machete and Jason Eisener, John Davies, and Rob Cotterill's Hobo With a Shotgun—have been turned into full-length features.

As of Nov. 17, a third has arrived in theaters: Eli Roth's Thanksgiving. Known for directing some of the most outrageous and ultra-violent horror movies of the past 20 years—from 2003's Cabin Fever to 2006's Hostel to 2015's The Green Inferno—Roth has made a name for himself finding innovative ways to get audiences to squirm in their seats. And Thanksgiving is no different.

"It was really a pleasure not just to make a Thanksgiving movie, but to fill the November horror movie void," Roth told People. "I felt like the calendar has been missing a November horror movie. It's been my life's mission to bring Halloween into November."

An homage to holiday-themed slashers like Black Christmas, Halloween, and April Fool's Day, Thanksgiving chronicles the gruesome rampage of a serial killer dressed as Pilgrim John Carver, the first governor of Plymouth Colony, who embarks on a murder spree in Plymouth, Mass.—the birthplace of the film's titular holiday—in the wake of a tragic Black Friday riot at the town's local superstore, Right Mart. When Thanksgiving rolls around the year following the deadly shopping spree, John Carver sets out to make a festive table spread out of the residents he deems responsible for the violence.

His targets—including Right Mart owner Thomas Wright (Rick Hoffman), his new wife Kathleen (Karen Cliche), his daughter Jessica (Nell Verlaque), and Jessica's friends—must uncover the killer's identity before it's too late, setting them on a crash course for a twisty whodunnit of an ending.

What happens at the end of Thanksgiving?

After a number of townspeople have been, let's say, creatively murdered by Carver, Jessica hatches a plan to draw the killer out using herself and her family as bait during Plymouth's annual Thanksgiving parade.

Unfortunately for the Wrights, Carver takes the opportunity to don a clown costume for the day instead and drugs and kidnaps all three of them along with Jessica's friend Scuba (Gabriel Davenport). Carver takes them to his hideout, where he's already holding Jessica's friends Gabby (Addison Rae) and Evan (Tomaso Sanelli), and proceeds to cook up Kathleen like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Addison Rae as Gabby in 'Thanksgiving'
Addison Rae as Gabby in ThanksgivingTristar Pictures

With the remainder of his hostages tied up and seated around his table, Carver smashes Evan's head in with a meat tenderizer and then serves up Kathleen while livestreaming the scene on social media. Luckily, thanks to the bladed ring that the Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused-esque McCarty (Joe Delfin) loaned her earlier in the movie, Jessica is able to cut through her bonds and pass the ring to Scuba to do the same. The two escape the house, although Scuba gets sliced with an ax and Jessica twists her ankle jumping over a fence in the process. Jessica manages to limp her way over to the parade warehouse and finds Sheriff Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey) unconscious on the ground before seeing her ex-boyfriend Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks) fleeing into the warehouse.

Now believing the killer is Bobby, whose star baseball career ended after his arm was broken during the riot, Jessica helps Sheriff Newlon up and the two alert the rest of the police force. The police set up shop inside a room in the warehouse and Sheriff Eric places an evidence bag containing Bobby's phone on the table in front of Jessica. The rest of the cops leave and as Sheriff Newlon turns to exit the room and give Jessica a few minutes on her own, she realizes that the same brambles that were stuck to her clothes after fleeing through the woods from Carver's hideout are also stuck to the sheriff's pants. She pieces together all the clues that she missed implicating him as the killer just as he also realizes she's figured it out.

Sheriff Newlon launches into a sinister confession, detailing how he wanted to punish the privileged and self-important people responsible for getting his friend Mitch's (Ty Olsson) wife Amanda (Gina Gershon)—with whom he was having an affair and who was carrying his child—killed during the Black Friday riot. But Jessica is one step ahead of him, revealing that she's been livestreaming his entire monologue.

Jessica flees through the warehouse and Bobby shows back up to help her. She turns on a valve of inflammable gas to inflate a giant blow-up turkey and the two try to drive off in Bobby's truck. With Sheriff Newlon in hot pursuit, Jessica fires off a dummy round on one of the parade's shotgun props to ignite the turkey and make it explode, enveloping Sheriff Newlon in flames.

When the police search the warehouse, they find no remaining trace of the sheriff and decide he must have been completely incinerated. But Jessica clearly isn't so sure. That night, after being reunited with her dad, surviving friends, and boyfriend Ryan (Milo Manheim), she dreams that she hears someone in her closet before Carver attacks her in a fiery blaze.

Jessica wakes up safe in her bed, but Roth leaves things open for a sequel with the suggestion that the notorious Thanksgiving killer could still be out there.

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com