BY EMMA HUERTA
This article contains spoilers
With its realistic connections and suspenseful pace, the “true crime” genre pulls in attentive spectators far and wide. The enticing genre often features dramatizations, crime reenactments, witness and expert testimonials, speculations and, ultimately, shocking reveals.
Now, take all of these immersive qualities in true crime and completely eliminate them. You may be asking yourself, “What does that get us then?” Introducing “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,” Netflix’s latest addition to their mediocre collection of true crime originals.
“Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” is a four-episode docu-series examining the disappearance and later death of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian tourist in Los Angeles, California.
Lam’s case is peculiar for a number of reasons, namely its location at the infamous Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles and the nature of her death, as she was found in the hotel’s main water tank. In fact, investigators examined the hotel footage and found a clip of Lam acting strangely in the elevator. They released this video to the public to ask for tips, and it eventually went viral among normal viewers and conspiracy theorists on YouTube for its bizarre nature.
Eventually, Lam was found dead in the hotel’s main water tank on the roof in what was determined by law enforcement to be the result of her mental health issues, since she suffered from bipolar disorder and depression. The mysterious nature of her passing along with the viral video garnered international attention, and consequently caused many suspicions about her death, hence the creation of this documentary.
The underlying story of “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” is nothing short of fascinating. In fact, it makes the docu-series inevitably intriguing because it is such an insane story to tell. Unfortunately, though, all other efforts made to render a cohesive piece of film fall flat.
The classic dramatization clips and general videos common to any true crime production are omnipresent in “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,” and many of the same ones at that. The videos representing certain points of the story are tediously repeated, and some are even overly blurry and poorly-lit, making them difficult to pay attention to in multiple instances. Viewing many of the same clips over and over contributes to the sense of boredom one frequently feels while watching the mini-series. It looks as if they simply ran out of footage.
It looks as if they simply ran out of footage.
In conjunction with the lack of filler clips, the actual explanation of Elisa Lam’s story is poor in “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.” The pacing of the story does the case a major injustice. Producers elongated what could have been a 30-minute “Forensic Files” episode into four long and gruesome hours. To do so, they not only resorted to repeating videos, but also to filling extensive gaps of time with unnecessary commentary from none other than YouTubers. Yes, YouTubers.
Quite like the ridiculous coincidences defended by Cecil Hotel conspiracy theorists, all of the negative aspects of “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” connect. Due to the sheer longevity of the series, it included interviewees that were either irrelevant or not credible, and on occasions, both.
While there were some useful figures, such as Los Angeles County detectives that worked on the case and the former general manager of the hotel, many testimonials posed as fluff. Rather than citing information directly from Elisa Lam’s family or other witnesses, much of the documentary relies on self-proclaimed YouTubers, strange Elisa Lam fanatics and ambiguous journalists.
If ridiculousness is your thing, then this is the series for you.
By including these people, a large chunk of the documentary is formulated around circular logic that feeds into wild conspiracies about Lam’s death, until finally reaching a logical conclusion at the end. If ridiculousness is your thing, then this is the series for you.
While any mysterious death is sure to pull in true crime fanatics, “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” is a sorry excuse for a film of the genre. Between tacky cinematography, cheap shots at suspense and YouTuber testimonials, it is not a recommended watch. It’s safe to say that over the course of a painful four hours, viewers’ interest in this docu-series was vanishing too.
- Intriguing story.
- Great for falling asleep.
- That’s pretty much it.
- Tacky dramatization clips.
- Irrelevant and choppy testimonials.
- Insanely long.
- Horrible pacing.
Photo courtesy of Netflix