Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Young Camille Preaker and half-sister Marian Crellin roller skate through their small town of Wind Gap, Missouri. They sneak into the Victorian mansion where they live — past their mother Adora Crellin and her husband Alan Crellin. The girls tiptoe into the room of adult Camille, fast asleep. Young Camille pokes adult Camille’s hand with the sharp edge of a paper clip, jolting adult Camille out of her dream and into the present.
At work, Camille meets with her editor Frank Curry at Kansas City’s St. Louis Chronicle. He asks about the town of Wind Gap and clues her in about a murder that occurred there last August and a recent disappearance; the victims in both incidences are young girls. He wants Camille to cover the story in her hometown — Curry thinks it could be good for her both professionally and personally: “Might flush some things out.”
Camille packs a bag and drives south, drinking vodka from a water bottle along the way. She arrives at a motel and dumps the contents of a paper bag on the bed: miniature alcohol bottles, candy and cigarettes. She draws a bath and eyes the screws within the bathroom toilet seat, triggering images of a janitor’s cart filled with cleaning supplies and drain cleaner, dripping blood and a reflection of a young woman we haven’t seen before. Camille submerges herself in the tub.
Young Camille is in a lake surrounded by forest. She’s jolted by a group of hunters. She follows them and finds an abandoned shed, filled with drying meat and smutty photos. Young Camille masturbates for the first time, while in the present adult Camille does so in the motel room.
The next day, Camille drives to Wind Gap police headquarters where she speaks with Chief Bill Vickery, who’s skeptical of her intentions, despite learning she’s Adora’s daughter and Amma’s step-sister. Vickery won’t comment on Natalie Keene, who’s missing, but he tells her a bit about Ann Nash, who was strangled and left in a local creek. She relays this information to Curry before joining the search party. On her way, Camille meets three girls on roller skates. The leader of the group, a pretty blonde, smokes and jokes about how Wind Gap “is so totally dead.”
Camille runs into Detective Richard Willis of Kansas City, who’s not thrilled about having a reporter looking into his case. Camille sees Jackie O’Neill, a friend of Adora’s who welcomes Camille with open arms. Jackie reveals Adora isn’t speaking to her.
After the search turns up empty, Camille heads to her childhood home. Before going inside she sits on the porch and flashes back to when she and Marian were growing up. Marian, sickly, talks about ghosts and wonders what happens after you die. Young Camille gets angry: “That kind of talk is for quitters. Are you a quitter?” Marian runs inside.
Adora answers the door for her daughter. Camille asks if she can stay for a few days “on business.” Camille tells Adora and her step-father Alan she’s writing a story about Natalie Keene’s disappearance and Ann Nash’s murder. Adora is disturbed she “would even want to dwell on such things.” Adora knew the girls, she claims, and is having a “very hard time.” As she picks her own eyelashes, Adora asks Camille not to talk about the case.
Adora walks Camille to her old bedroom and says goodnight. As she leaves, Adora passes a ghostly Marian sitting on a bench in the hallway. Adora does not notice. Back in her bedroom, Camille lies down and flashes back to the night a very ill Marian went from bad to worse and started seizing next to young Camille.
Adult Camille runs from her bedroom. Unable to shake the memory, Camille drives to dive bar Sensor’s, where she speaks with the bartender Chris. He points out John Keene, Natalie’s older but underaged brother, sitting at the end of the bar. Before Camille can talk to John, Richard interrupts. Camille is sarcastic, which he appreciates, then cagey, which he doesn’t. He leaves, as does John Keene. Camille gets excessively drunk and wakes up in her car.
She tries to sneak back in Adora’s house but is caught by Adora who grows angry. Camille apologizes: “I just want you to understand that I didn’t come back to cause any problems. That wasn’t my intention.”
Camille makes an early run to the liquor store and stops at Bob Nash’s house to interview him about Ann. He reveals his daughter was taken while biking to her friend Emily’s house. He tells Camille that Ann wasn’t raped, her bike wasn’t found and people are pointing a finger at him.
Camille watches the three girls she met before the search stealing mementos from Natalie’s and Ann’s memorial. Just then, a passerby discovers Natalie’s deceased body propped up in an alleyway. Vickery arrives on the scene.
In the Wind Gap police interrogation room, Richard and Camille drink whiskey together. Richard offers to drive her home but Camille shakes him off and asks if Bob Nash and John Keene are suspects. Richard storms out without confirming either way.
At home, Camille is confronted by Adora who scolds her daughter for questioning Bob Nash. Amma descends the stairs. Camille recognizes her as the leader of the three girls she’s been seeing around town. Here, she looks much more conservative, doll-like.
Amma shows Camille her dollhouse. It’s an exact replica of the Crellin mansion. Amma steals a private moment with Camille and asks if she’s gone into Marian’s room. She asks Camille if Marian was perfect. “No. But she was close.” Amma reveals Adora doesn’t know she skates around town in her “civvies” or that she’s “incorrigible” like Camille was.
Camille peeks into Marian’s room and flashes back to Marian’s funeral. At the open casket ceremony, young Camille becomes fixated on the fact Marian is wearing lipstick. She tries to wipe it off, causing a scene and having to be escorted out by Alan and the priest.
In the present, Camille pours herself a drink and draws a bath. Scars of carved words are all over her body. One word on her forearm comes into focus: vanish.