Thanksgiving’s ending, explained

Addison Rae screams in Thanksgiving.
Tristar Pictures

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Thanksgiving (2023).

Director Eli Roth’s new horror-comedy, Thanksgiving, ends as all slasher movies should: With a few last-minute twists. Its third act follows the film’s protagonist, Jessica (Nell Verlaque), as she escapes a horrifying dinner party massacre orchestrated by Thanksgiving‘s masked killer and makes it to a nearby warehouse. Once there, she discovers her town’s sheriff, Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey), lying unconscious near his patrol car and, shortly thereafter, watches through one of the nearby warehouse’s windows as her ex-boyfriend, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), takes off the same mask worn by her murderous pursuer.

Assuming the worst, Jessica teams up with Sheriff Newlon to try to take Bobby, down only for the latter to escape. Newlon calls in backup and a manhunt for Bobby begins. However, just when it seems like Jessica has successfully saved the lives of her father and several of her remaining friends, she notices some of the same burrs stuck to Newlon’s boots that got stuck to her own legs as she ran away from the film’s masked slasher only an hour or so earlier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for Newlon to notice the burrs on his boots and deduce that Jessica has realized that he is, in fact, the killer that has been targeting her and her friends for the past few days.

Patrick Dempsey stands near a football coach in Thanksgiving.
Tristar Pictures

Trapping Jessica in a secluded room with him, Newlon reveals that his secret lover, Amanda Collins (Gina Gershon), was one of the victims of the previous year’s Black Friday massacre. The incident was the direct result of not only gross negligence on the part of Jessica’s rich father, Thomas (Rick Hoffman), but also the immature behavior of her and her friends. In case that wasn’t bad enough, Newlon further reveals that Amanda was pregnant with his baby when she was killed. Jessica, for her part, realizes that Newlon had been using his position as the town’s sheriff to get as much information from her as he could about everyone responsible for Amanda’s death.

After Jessica escaped his gruesome Thanksgiving ceremony, Newlon planned on framing Bobby, whom he’d previously kidnapped and drugged, for all of his crimes. When he’s just on the verge of killing her and finishing his plan, however, Jessica reveals that she’s been secretly live-streaming his confession. Enraged, Newlon charges at Jessica only to be hit by a hammer thrown through the room’s window by Bobby, who rushes in and saves his ex-girlfriend.

As the two teenagers attempt to get out of the warehouse alive, they’re stalked by an ax-wielding Newlon, who comes dangerously close several times to cutting both of their lives short. Jessica, thankfully, manages to use the flammable gas in a nearby inflatable turkey and the gunpowder of an antique, pilgrim-era musket to blindside Newlon with a devastating explosion. Hours later, Jessica is reunited with her surviving friends and family members, and it seems like everything has ended as well as possible for Thanksgiving’s remaining would-be victims. That is, at least, until the film serves up one final, tried-and-true horror movie twist.

A masked killer holds a pitchfork in Thanksgiving.
Pief Weyman / Tristar Pictures

As Jessica and Bobby sit in an ambulance outside the warehouse where they faced off with Newlon, she overhears a couple of firefighters note that they didn’t find a single body within the building’s charred remains. Roth emphasizes this reveal with a shot of a masked firefighter walking away from the warehouse — seemingly implying that Dempsey’s Sheriff Newlon will be back to unleash more violence in the future. Later that night, Jessica wakes up from a nightmare in which she’s attacked by Newlon’s burning body. The purposefully open-ended moment suggests that she, like Thanksgiving’s presumably still-alive villain, won’t be relaxing or resting anytime soon.

The film, in other words, not only sets the stage for it to be the first installment of a new horror franchise, but it also leaves plenty on the table for a potential sequel. Of course, whether or not Thanksgiving’s story will ever actually be continued remains to be seen.

Thanksgiving is now playing in theaters.

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