Living in the Ozark back country, seventeen year old Ree Dolly acts as the primary caregiver to her mentally ill mother, and her two younger siblings, twelve year old Sonny and six year old Ashlee.
Her father, Jessup Dolly, is generally absent from their lives, he who earns a living primarily by running a methamphetamine lab. Without money from Jessup, Ree is barely able to make ends meet, and depends on the kindness of their neighbor, Sonya, to do so. Ree learns that her father is scheduled for a court appearance for his illegal activities, and he has skipped bail, putting their house and property up as bond. No one seems to know where Jessup is. Ree has to try and find Jessup to make sure that he shows up for his court appearance, otherwise they risk losing their home. As Ree goes on her quest, she finds that people seem to know more about his whereabouts than they are letting on, including her uncle Teardrop of who she is scared. Rumors abound that Jessup is dead, but a dead father without a body does not help her cause. But Ree's persistence in finding out what happened to Jessup makes her come face to face with the code of silence for which some are willing to kill.