Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a crime documentary series directed by Joe Berlinger. It talks about the infamous Elisa Lam case.
For anyone who loves true crime, Elisa Lam’s disappearance is probably one of the most interesting and undoubtedly creepy cases to ever exist. Sure, there are more gruesome things out there on the internet (just look at Don’t Fuck With Cats), but the Elisa Lam case was something else. Be it the extremely uncomfortable elevator video that sent the internet on a frenzy when it was released to the public or the discovery of Lam’s body in the Cecil, the case has pushed people to try and understand what went wrong with the 21-year-old Vancouver resident.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel looks at the Elisa Lam case and tries to shed a light on all the facts about it. As is norm with Netflix documentaries, the 4-episode-long series has several interviews, re-enactments and crime scene footage and images meshed together to provide an overview of not only Elisa Lam’s disappearance but also provides a history of the Cecil Hotel and Skid Row.
Unfortunately for The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, however, the documentary provides nothing interesting or creepy to the case and leaves you feeling uninterested and a little confused.
At the get-go, the series talks about the Cecil like it’s the villain in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, like it housed some malevolent forces and that the hotel itself was evil and thus bad things always happened there. I didn’t understand whether the implication was meant to be funny or not, and I sure hope it was, but the reality of it is a lot simpler and sadder.
The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel probably focuses on too many different things for my liking, which, I doubt, is to pad the runtime. There are things here that, if left out, could’ve made for a tighter and more interesting narrative. We focus too long on the elevator video as well. Listen, I love that video and it still gives me the creeps – but getting people on a Netflix documentary to make odd inferences from a grainy video is asking for too much. The series also invites psychologists to break down Lam’s prolific Tumblr postings to ascertain her mental state. It’s honestly embarrassing.
The series, also, dedicates a considerable amount of time to the internet sleuths who tried to solve this case from when the elevator video was uploaded. I think sleuthing as a hobby is fine as long as that’s not the only thing that your documentary is based on. It might have worked for Don’t Fuck With Cats, but here it’s just sad.
The re-enactments are downright annoying to watch sometimes, the pacing is all over the place and series director Joe Berlinger lets people who don’t matter or add nothing to the story talk for far too long. The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, thus, turns out to be nothing but a sad and annoying attempt at telling the story and the facts about an incident that is extremely sad and scary and sheds a light on the way people handle mental health in the world.
The only times you might feel interested in the series is probably when the detectives talk about the case and everything that they did to solve it. The part about Skid Row, its problems, the violence in the Cecil and the accounts of longtime Cecil resident Kenneth Givens is interesting and distressing. At no point did The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel need the silly supernatural connections that it was subjected to. It just cheapened the whole experience.
Summing up: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
Inspite of what the trailer told you, The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is voyeuristic and extremely unfair to Lam and what she probably went through. The series uninteresting, unspooky and just does a bad job at telling a story that could really have shone through if done right. An all-out disappointment.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is streaming on Netflix.
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