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The Ending Of The Reading Explained

"The Reading," a great psychological horror thriller from BET+, is the story of how a PR stunt leads to a house full of dead bodies. Emma Leeden (Mo'Nique) survives a home invasion that sadly leaves her two children and husband dead. She writes a book, "The Invasion," about that horrific night and her refusal to be seen as a victim. As a result, she has become rich and famous. 

In an attempt to get some viral social media content going, Emma agrees to stage a psychic reading in her home and film it. College student Sky Brown (Chasity Sereal) is a psychic, prepared to help mild-mannered Emma contact the spirits of her dead family. Sky and three of her friends work together to facilitate these readings as a way to make money. Emma agrees to this because she doesn't believe in mediums and the ability to speak to the dead. 

However, it's hard to argue with results, and Emma soon discovers that Sky's gifts might be real. Written and directed by Courtney Glaudé, this Black female-led horror film then offers a plot twist that will shock you to your core, and if you want to dive deeper into what the film's sudden turn is all about, let's discuss the ending of "The Reading."

What you need to remember about the plot of The Reading

"The Reading" opens with a warm and loving mom and wife, Emma Leeden, returning home to her family. After some sugary sweet greetings, each member retreats into separate rooms while Emma cooks dinner. But while Emma is distracted, four intruders enter the home and brutally kill her family. Emma is left for dead but manages to survive.

One year later, Emma is on a talk show, telling her story and promoting her book. Emma is now meek, walks with a cane, and has a slight speech impediment due to the attack. To further promote her book, public relations manager Ashley (Lisa Alavi) has scheduled psychic Sky Brown to come to her home to do a reading. The plan is to film the staged reading for online content, to generate more buzz about Emma and the book. But once the reading is underway, absolute horror is unlocked.

Sky, a college student with the ability to talk to the dead, and her three friends, Jessie, Gregory, and Randy, use this gift to make money. Because Sky is really a medium, it's not a scam per se. But the group's practices are a bit unethical when they try to upcharge clients. Sky's gifts are growing more powerful, and it's starting to scare her. She is ready to leave this operation behind, but the promise of $100,000 keeps her around.

Who is Emma Leeden?

When we first meet Emma, she seems to have it all, including a loving family, a beautiful home, and a charming personality. But her perfect world is soon rocked by masked intruders who rob her of her peace, health, and, most importantly, her family. By writing her book, "The Invasion," she has done the best she could to try and take back her power and not be seen as a victim.

When Sky arrives at her home to do the reading, Emma gives her a brief tour of the house. Her children's rooms have gone untouched this past year, and talking about them makes Emma emotional. During the tour, Emma mentions that the house is now fortified with cameras, alarms, and bulletproof glass for her peace of mind. That carefree woman she once was is gone, now replaced with a more cautious, paranoid, and protective individual.

Her public relations manager has given Sky a few details to "make it look real." But during this supposedly fake reading, Emma, who now lives alone, hears children's footsteps upstairs. There are things that Sky tells her that she shouldn't know. Emma starts to believe, and that makes her nervous.

Sky Brown sees dead people

As a college student who lives at home with her mom, Sky is in desperate need of money to be able to live a more comfortable life. She lives with her mother, who refuses to take the money Sky offers her. It's unclear why Sky has this paranormal gift, but it becomes the vehicle for her to get closer to her wants and needs. When we first meet her, she is doing a reading for a young man, contacting his dead mother for him. Sky and her friends have created a business by performing and recording these readings for people.

Even though she can actually communicate with the dead, she and her friends find a way to make this morally questionable. It goes like this — the person has already paid for the reading, but near the end of it, Sky tells them that their loved one wants them to wire money to the Kids For Kids Organization. We can assume there is no such organization and that money goes to Sky and her crew. Despite this, Sky appears to be a kind-hearted person who would prefer not to shake people down for money during a very vulnerable moment. 

During her most recent reading, Sky notices that the spirit came too close to her. If the spirit touches her, it can possess her. Obviously, this scares her, and she is ready to turn away from this hustle for good. 

One final score

Not a complete narcissist, Gregory (Ian Haywood) accepts that Sky wants to get out of the psychic-for-hire business for good. But he has found a huge payday and begs Sky to do just one more reading for the very wealthy Emma. The job pays $20,000, but he thinks he can get $100,000 from the very vulnerable Emma. 

Knowing that Sky wants what's best for the people around her, Gregory uses the rest of their group to push loyal Sky in the direction he wants her to go. By being manipulative, he manages to convince Sky to do just one more reading for the monetary benefit of the entire crew. The group will soon come to realize how much of a terrible decision this was. Why continue to tempt fate when they have gotten away with this scheme for so long?  

To be fair, Gregory isn't the only one enticed by a big payday. Sky needs money to improve her less than ideal living situation. Like a lot of 19-year-olds, she no longer wants to live with her mother. Their relationship appears strained, but the film only really scratches the surface of that wound. 

What happened at the end of The Reading?

During the reading, Sky goes deep into the spiritual realm and begins describing every family member's last moments alive. Emma's husband argued with a work colleague, Emma's teenage daughter was texting with a friend, and the youngest child, Kyren, was taking a bath. The spirit of Kyren takes Sky over as she starts to sing the song that Kyren was singing to himself. The bomb drops when she says, "Hey, Momma. What you doing?" In other words, there were never any intruders. Emma murdered her family.

Realizing that Sky is the real deal and now knows the truth, Emma's mask drops. She tosses aside the cane and loses the speech impediment. Emma locks the house up, shooting Gregory in the chest when he pleads for her to let them go. Emma is now in full villain mode as she picks each person off individually, determined to keep her secret. It finally comes down to Emma and Sky, with Sky managing to get hold of Emma's gun and shooting her dead. 

What did mommy do?

Once Sky has made contact with the spirits of Emma's family, she goes deep into a trance. Before this, Sky tells Emma some trivial things to signify that she is in contact with the family. These are small things that can be easily found out by taking a tour of the house, and the PR manager later admits to telling Sky a few minor details to make it look believable.

Sky genuinely feels sorry for Emma and thinks it will help her to hear from her family and to know they are okay. As she's making the connection, things start to feel off. Things are happening to Sky that she's never experienced before. Her eyes go white, her body contorts, and veins form all over her face.

Inexplicable sounds come from other rooms in the house. Sky talks on an imaginary phone about a business deal gone wrong, reenacting each family member's final moments of life. It's when she gets to the final, most gut-wrenching moment that the curtain is pulled, as water spills from Sky's mouth because Kyren was drowned in the bathtub. This is the pivotal moment in the film, where the audience realizes the deception is coming from Emma, not Sky.

For the love of money

Now realizing that this is not an act and Sky's gift is very much real, Emma knows her secret is out. She outright admits to the rest of the group what Sky already knows. She goes into action, locking down the house and dropping the poor victim act, becoming a cold and calculated killer. 

It all comes down to money. Emma's husband was experiencing money problems so big that they threatened the lavish life she had grown accustomed to. This is her explanation for killing him. Her children are sacrificed because she is just an awful person who can't stand the thought of being a single parent. This entire traumatic situation, starting with the fake home invasion, is caused by greed. Emma wants to stay rich, so she kills her family. Sky and her friends want a big payday, so they do this one last job, even though Sky wants to quit. 

During a virtual Q&A, writer-director Courtney Glaudé mentioned how he envisioned Sky, saying, "I wanted Sky to be very, very loyal to her family and friends, because those are the type of people that get in situations they don't want to be in." This makes sense seeing that before and during Emma's reading, Sky makes it clear how scared she is to continue using her gift. But not wanting to disappoint her friends, she ignores her own instincts.

What does the end of The Reading mean?

One year after surviving what could be the worst night of her life, Sky appears in a post-credits scene on the same talk show that Emma was on at the beginning of the movie. She doesn't appear to be promoting anything, just telling her story of survival and exposing the truth about Emma and her crimes. The film's final shot is Sky looking straight into the camera. This is very similar to the final shot in "Psycho," one of Alfred Hitchcock's must-watch movies, perhaps hinting at something else going on just below the surface.

Sky's demeanor and even her fashion sense have changed. She is presenting as a bit more conservative, slightly mirroring the outfit Emma wore when she was previously on the show. Yes, being held hostage and watching your friends die will change someone. But if you listen closely, you can hear Emma laugh.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't dig deep enough into the supernatural elements of this story to explain how this would have happened. But it's entirely possible that Emma's spirit is now driving Sky's body.

The ending could mean something else

There is a moment when Sky is trying to break through to Emma's humanity by telling her how scared her children were in their last moments on Earth. As Emma listens alone in the hallway, it looks as though she genuinely feels regret for what she has done. Then she flips and goes on about how she didn't want to have kids in the first place. This could be a sign that Emma has been possessed this whole time. For one fleeting moment, the real Emma is almost peeking out, only to be shoved back in by whatever spirit has possessed her.

It's hinted that there could have been a dark presence already in the house when Emma's family was killed, which inhabited her. That is one way to explain how this woman could smother and drown her own children.

In the end credits, Mo'Nique is credited as playing three separate characters, Emma Leeden, Ms. Leeden, and Emma. Who are all of these characters? Which Emma shows up where? While stalking the kids through her house, Emma rages a lot about "the youth" and "getting older." Her spirit may want to hop into the body of a 19-year-old woman with her entire life ahead of her.

What has the director of The Reading said about the ending?

The Houston-based writer-director Courtney Glaudé was inspired to pen "The Reading" after seeing a program on which singer Bobby Brown was being interviewed by a medium. Even though the medium wasn't familiar with Bobby Brown's fame, he knew of Brown's deceased daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Glaudé told HorrorBuzz, "It sparked something in me. I want to write a movie for that particular moment."

In an appearance on The Roselyn Omaka Show, Glaudé was asked if hidden messages were in the film. The director simply answered, "Yeah." He continued to explain, "I love twists and turns. Pay attention. You're gonna watch the movie, and then at the end, you're gonna see something and go, 'Oh, I missed that.' Then you gotta watch it again from a different perspective." What you think you know, you have no idea. The indie filmmaker strongly suggested multiple viewings to truly grasp what's happening.

Glaudé is self-taught in film production. He told Rolling Out, "Everything was trial and error, trying it out again and again until you find out who you are in this art." During the same interview, he mentioned that M. Night Shyamalan and his plot twists are what made him believe that he could make movies. 

Could there be a sequel to The Reading?

If the theory that Emma now possesses Sky is true, "The Reading" could absolutely have a sequel. It could eventually be discovered how Emma managed to jump into Sky's body. That raises the question of whether Sky is still aware and whether she will have the ability to regain control. There is also the question of whether or not it was actually Emma who committed these murders. What there an evil presence in the house that took control of her body in order to perform these unspeakable deeds?

There is no confirmation of any plans for a sequel, but watching a new version of Sky and having some of the more supernatural questions answered would make for a great storyline.

If she is not possessed, there is still a story there. It could be interesting to catch up with Sky to see how and if she is healing. The aftermath of being the sole survivor of the massacre can't be easy. Will she continue to use her gift as a medium, or will she try to push that aside? The sequel could even be a prequel story that dives deeper into the origin of her gift and why her relationship with her mother is so strained.