Annie Wilkes, fleeing a murder charge, ends up with her daughter Joy in Jerusalem's Lot. Ace Merrill threatens the Somali land developer who is "poaching" Ace's tenants, and Annie tries to get the drugs she needs from the hospital where she works as a temp.
A bloody woman runs through the forest, carrying a cardboard box. She finally comes to a stop, and hers someone moving behind her. The woman runs to a nearby river and sets the box down, then drops to her knees. Beside her, the box shakes as something inside moves.
The woman, Annie Wilkes, prepares for her first day at work as a part-time nurse. Annie takes her pills and walks through the hospital. She enters pharma supply, takes several bottles of antipsychotics, and walks out of the hospital to her SUV. Annie's daughter, Joy, sits in the front coloring. Annie gets in and says that they're off to the Laughing Place, and Joy agrees. They drive across the country, singing, and Annie takes her pills and then steals more. Mother and daughter sing as they cross the country, switching license plates from state to state.
As the Wilkes cross the country, Joe grows up. She sees teenagers driving in their cars and looks enviously at them.
One night, Annie stops at a gas station to refuel. Joy goes inside, and a man takes her photo and says that she's from North Dakota because her most recent plates say so. The man talks about how he and his son try to spot cars from every state, and Annie says that she and Joy have had some harassment trouble online. She asks the man to delete the pictures he took, and the man immediately does so.
Later down the road, Annie swaps plates and drives on. Joy draws in her notebook, and Annie realizes that she's almost out of pills. She searches through her purse for more, and the SUV hits something and the tires blow. The SUV turns over and slides, on the road near Castle Rock, Maine.
One Week Later
John :"Ace" Merrill goes to the office door of his uncle Reginald "Pop", listens to Pop talk, and then walks downstairs to the Emporium Galorium. He leashes the dog and takes it out to the tow truck, and drives off. Ace drives through Jerusalem's Lot, listening to a talk show host on the radio complaining about the Somalis taking over their businesses and their land. Somalis are walking down the street, and Ace pulls up to the new Somali Mall and goes through it with his two "associates", collecting protection money from the merchants.
One merchant, Naji, says that he's moving to the new Somali mall. Ace tells him to keep his money because he's not going anywhere, and walks off. Later, Ace drives to the construction site of the new mall, goes to the office trailer, and yells at Abdi Howlwadaag to get out there. Abdi comes out and Ace tells him that the only reason got the land to build on was because it's haunted and no one else wants it. When Ace tells Abdi to stop poaching his tenants, Abdi's men tell him to get out.
Annie sits at the laundromat and watches the dryers tumble, while remembering walking through the woods.
Ace drives to the Star Gazer Lodge Motel as Annie comes back with her clothes. She goes into her cabin, locks the door, and draws the blinds as Joy comes out. Annie tells Joy to stay from Ace, their landlord, and Joy points out that after the accident, Ace didn't charge them to tow the car. Her mother figures that nothing is free for a man like Ace, and points out how the "dirty bird" has been looking at them. Joy wonders if she's okay, pointing out that Annie hasn't had her medicine in a week, and Annie says that she's getting more pills at the hospital that day. Her daughter asks if she go to the store to get more drawing paper after school. When Annie points out that she has paper, Joy says that she's feeling cabin fevery. Her mother tells Joy that she's heard about massacres and kids vanishing, and Castle Rock isn't what it seems.
Annie says that in a couple of more days, she'll get the car fixed and they'll be back on the road. Joy wonders where they'll go, and Annie says the Laughing Place. Annie gets ready for her interview and tells Joy not to open the door for anyone.
At the hospital, Joy meets with Jamal and tells him that she's just passing through and looking for a temporary job. She says that she isn't on any medications except Vitamin D, and gives a fake name. Once she's hired, Annie compulsively cleans up the schedule board. Jamal shows her the pharma supply and warns that they have extra security because of the junkies.
Later, Annie convinces a nurse that she needs to get medicine for a patient. The nurse, Evelyn, tries to let Annie in but the keypad fritzes and Evelyn says that the doctor will let Annie in. Annie slowly loses her control, unable to get in to get the pills.
Joy gets bored alone in the cabin.
Annie notices a doctor letting a nurse into pharma supply, and the key card she uses to override the keypad. As Annie walks home, she sees a man standing on the highway. A bus comes by, startling Annie, and when she turns back, the man is gone.
At the Emporium, two policemen wait while Pop lights his pipe. He tells them to the sheriff that if another of his deputies tickets his truck, there'll be no payoffs for him. They collect their own money and leave, and Ace comes in and complains that his tenants are leaving. Ace complains that Pop didn't stop it when he could, and Pop reminds him that everything he has he gave him. Ace calls him "Sergeant Major", and Pop advises him not to bring it up again before leaving.
Joy finally opens the blinds and sees a girl, Chance, playing the guitar. She goes out and compliments Chance on her playing, and the teenager explains that her song is about witches. Chance says that there's a bunch of them that used to live in the area. She realizes that Joy was in the accident and that Annie didn't want an ambulance. They introduce themselves and Chance takes Joy to where her friends Vera and Timothy are amusing themselves throwing crushed pop cans at a nearby abandoned observatory that gives the motel its name. Annie tells them that she's from "all over" and she doesn't have a phone to take pictures of the crash. Timothy tells her that she needs a phone, and Joy starts throwing cans.
Annie goes to the Emporium and hits the bell until Pop's other nephew Chris comes in. He's heard that she picked up a shift at the hospital, and tells her that the windshield for her car isn't in yet. As Annie leaves, Ace arrives and Annie ignores him as she leaves. Chris reminds Ace that Pop told him not to mess with the Star Gazer guests, and Ace points out that her VIN don't match her plates. He figures that Annie is running from something. Chris reminds Ace that Abdi is Ace's stepbrother and he shouldn't do anything stupid. Ace wonders whose side he's on and goes inside.
As Annie walks back to the motel, she imagines someone is following her. She turns to see a Tall Man standing covered in blood, staring at her. Annie drops her purse and runs, and finds Joy and her new friends. There's no one behind her, and she takes Joy homes. Annie complains that Joy's new friends are rats because they live there, and Joy points out that they live there as well. Annie insists that Castle Rock isn't the Laughing Place, sits Joy down, and says that she'll do everything to keep her safe and whole. She insists that places like Castle Rock isn't life, and the people there will try to make Joy trash like them. Joy finally interrupts her ranting to ask if she got her pills. Annie locks herself in her room and puts on her headphones to listen to her Misery novel.
Joy sits down to draw.
Annie accesses a web site on treating bipolar disorder. She then looks up her own name and finds a FBI wanted poster for her, having fled to avoid prosecution for murder.
That night at the mall construction site, insects crawl out of the ground and fly off.
The next morning, Dr. Nadia Howlwadaag jokingly tells her brother Abdi that he owes her rent for sleeping on her couch. At the hospital, Nadia notices that someone cleaned up the schedule board. Evelyn asks for the punch card key to get into pharma, and Nadia tells the nurse that she left it at home. Evelyn says that Annie cleaned up the board, and as she walks down the hall, Nadia finds a necklace on the floor. Annie comes up and says that it's hers, and Nadia gives it to her and says that it's lovely. The new nurse says that it belonged to her mother, and Nadia says that the staff says that Annie is doing good work there. Surprised, Annie accepts the compliment.
Nadia gets called away because her father is her office. Pop is smoking his pipe, and they hug. She points out that his appointment is on Friday, and Pop says that he thinks he's dying. Nadia insists that she won't let him die as she checks him, and Pop says that he did one good thing putting her through medical school. He tells Nadia that she needs to speak to Abdi, and Nadia reminds him that he had a deal. Pop explains that Abdi is poaching Ace's tenants, and Nadia notes that Abdi is giving them a better deal. He asks Nadia to tell Abdi to go easy, and Nadia tells her that she doesn't get involved in it per their deal before finishing her exam and leaving.
Annie stares down the hallway and then throws up in the restroom. She stares at the flickering lights and remembers going to the river, and goes to the electrical room and cuts the power. Annie runs to pharma and comes to the Tall Man, blocking her way. She runs away, the Tall Man following her, and comes to pharma. The lights come up and the Tall Man is gone. Timothy asks what she's doing there, and Annie says that she fell. She tells Timothy that she needs to get into pharma to get medicine for a patient, and Evelyn remembers Nadia having the key card.
Later, Annie looks up Nadia's file and finds her address.
Joy is in the cabin drawing, and addresses one of her drawings to Chance. She slides it under the door of Chance's cabin and Chance looks at it and smiles. Joy goes back to her cabin but then goes to Ace's instead. He's playing loud music and mixing Molotov cocktails, and checks his revolver. Ace looks out the window and sees Joy, and she runs back to her cabin.
Annie goes to Nadia's house, breaks in, and searches the place for the key card. She sees the stairs to the second floor and remembers another stairway where she was covered in blood, and then goes upstairs . Annie hears someone outside and looks to see Abdi approaching the house. Ace is down the street in his car, and sees Abdi go inside.
When Abdi comes in, Annie hides but knocks over a knickknack. Abdi hears it hit the floor and calls to who he assumes is Nadia. When there's no response, Abdi draws his gun and goes upstairs to where Annie is hiding. Ace throws a Molotov cocktail through the window, setting the living room on fire. Abdi goes to put it out, and Annie goes down the stairs with the key card while Ace throws another Molotov cocktail through the window. When Ace drives off, Abdi sees him go and Annie leaves the house while Abdi is distracted.
The next day, Annie goes to the hospital and goes to pharma.
As Joy sits on her doorstep and draws, she sees two policeman come up and question Ace about the arson.
Annie uses the key card to get into pharma.
Ace notices Joy watching as he goes inside.
Annie puts the bottles of antipsychotics in her bag and finds Nadia there. She knows Annie is lying about getting medicine for a patient, and figures that Annie is an addict. Nadia threatens to call the cops if Annie doesn't tell her the truth, and Annie says that she has things in her mind. She says that the headshrinkers couldn't make her right but she found the right mix of antipsychotics to keep herself sane. Annie insists that she needs her pills because Joy needs the right her. As she talks, Annie remembers taking the baby Joy out of the box.
Nadia realizes that Joy is Annie's daughter, and Annie says that she lost her own mother and knows how hard it would be for Joy if she "went away". Annie breaks into tears, and Nadia writes her a prescription and says that she'll have to make a couple of small adjustments using samples and off-labels to get Annie what she needs. Annie wonders why Nadia is covering her, and Nadia says that if more people took anti-psychotics it would be a better world. She tells Annie to call her if she feels an episode coming on, and Annie thanks her. As Nadia goes, Annie lies and says that she found Nadia's key card behind her office desk.
Annie takes her pills, then goes to get her windshield from the Emporium. She drives back to the motel and Joy realizes that her mother got her "medicine". Annie tells her that her father was a hero while her mother was a settler. She's a mix of both, and always has Joy's best interests at heart. Annie figures that Joy deserves a place to settle a bit, and figures that anywhere could be the Laughing Place if they're there together.
Chance lies on her bed and looks at the drawing Joy gave her. She then takes out an old phone from beneath her bed.
Annie gives Joy money to get herself some drawing paper... by herself. When Joy goes out, she finds a package on the doorstep.
Pop looks at photos of his two families.
Nadia comes home and discovers what happened. Abdi says that Ace tried to burn them both out, and Nadia tells her brother that it has to stop.
Pop looks at photos of Ace and Abdi together.
Nadia tells Abdi not to do anything.
Joy opens the package and finds the phone.
Annie is serving herself ice cream when Ace comes in and asks if Joy is there. He tells her that Joy gets into other people's shit, and tells Annie that he's the landlord and can come in. Ace says that he's done a background check on Annie and knows she has fictitious plates, and figures that she won't call the police. He tells Annie that she's going to keep Joy from telling anyone what she saw him doing. Annie rams the ice scream scoop into Ace's mouth and then pounds it in. Ace chokes to death, and Annie draws the blinds shut.
Joy walks along the bridge in town.
Annie takes Ace's wallet and pulls out the ice cream scoop. She bags them and prepares to go out.
Joy returns to the motel and notices that the light in Ace's cabin is on. She goes inside her own cabin and discovers that Annie is gone.
Annie drives through the night with Ace's body in the back. She goes to Castle Lake, sees a fisherman, and drives to the mall construction site. Annie digs a grave in the excavated foundation and dumps Ace's body in. The ground collapses beneath Annie, and bugs fly out of the cavern beneath. Annie loses her grip and falls to the bottom.
- Lizzy Caplan as Annie Wilkes
- Tim Robbins as Reginald Merrill
- Garrett Hedlund as John "Ace" Merrill
- Elsie Fisher as Joy
- Yusra Warsama as Dr. Nadia Omar
- Barkhad Abdi as Abdi Omar
- Matthew Alan as Chris Merrill