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Friday, February 23, 2024

Netflix's new crime doc series "Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel" tells the story through multiple perspectives.

New Netflix crime doc falls short of anticipated suspense

On February 11, Netflix released a four-episode documentary about the mystery case of Elisa Lam. In early 2013, Lam was reported missing after staying at the infamous Cecil Hotel located in Los Angeles. The documentary follows this crime through the perspectives of the hotel manager at the time, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), hotel guests and the “internet sleuths". Through multiple views, viewers are walked through one of the most bewildering and puzzling crime scenes of the decade. 

First Thoughts

Watching the documentary you are left trying to figure out the case yourself, much like people on the internet were doing in real-time during the investigation. The show brings up interesting points of people thinking the police could have been trying to cover up their mistakes and just how intrigued people online were trying finding out what really happened to her. In the beginning of the documentary, you learn about the Cecil Hotel’s dark history regarding hotel guest deaths, which suggests that Elisa’s case is no surprise. As the documentary goes on, you are not gifted with information to help solve the case, but instead are only more confused. This Netflix show ends with the case still on your mind days later, asking yourself, could that have really happened? 

WARNING: The rest of the article does contain SPOILERS! 

Internet Sleuths

“Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” gives internet sleuths a bad name, portraying them as people causing more harm than good as they look into and find interest in Lam’s case. Mentioned in the documentary, the LAPD first asked for help from the public regarding any information they had about Elisa Lam before they found her. It’s odd that they would then shame internet sleuths for looking more into the investigation with information and video footage that was released from the LAPD themselves. It is a natural curiosity for people to want to know what happened.


Towards the end of the documentary, Lam’s family presses charges against the Cecil Hotel with a negligence lawsuit. The judge ruled Lam's death unforeseeable because the water tank in which her body was found was in an employees only site. This lawsuit was only briefly mentioned with the hotel manager quickly dismissing it. It would have been more engrossing to have had more time and different people’s point of views on the lawsuit instead of a quick introduction. 

Hotel Manager

The hotel manager offers one of the main viewpoints told throughout the documentary and she participated because she doesn’t want to remain quiet on the subject and she has hope of the Cecil Hotel having a brighter future. With the hotel’s dark past, it is hard to see any promising future for it and it is a surprise that it has remained open for so long. 

Mental Disorder

At the end of the documentary we are left with the assumption Elisa Lam’s death was due to her bipolar disorder. The show hired an expert to speak about her disorder briefly, but not enough was spoken about it. The show did not stretch the fact that her death was because of her mental disorder of being bipolar, and it’s worth it to take it seriously, which makes the audience see this documentary as unfinished. 

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Final Thoughts

This show was hyped up and the story is a roller coaster in itself; however, the retelling of this case was underwhelming. The documentary had the right people to interview and the right case to cover, yet the storytelling part was the issue. With a 6/10 on IMDb, a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 2/5 on Common Sense Media, Crime Scene: “The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” was plain mediocre. 

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