CRIME SCENE: THE VANISHING AT THE CECIL HOTEL – Review

College student and tourist Elisa Lam vanishes, leaving behind all of her possessions in her hotel room. The Cecil Hotel grows in infamy.

I am an avid YouTube watcher and in particular, I tend to watch videos relating to horror movies, creepy real-life videos, paranormal investigations, and unsolved mysteries. There are plenty of channels on the platform that discuss these events and I greatly enjoy watching a large number of them, but no mystery has scared me more than the disappearance of Elisa Lam.

A Canadian college student, Lam went on a trip to California where she checked in to a popular hotel called the Cecil Hotel. What Lam probably did not know was just how dangerous and checkered the hotel’s backstory is.

Back in 2013, a video was published on YouTube that sent people online into a shock. A surveillance camera video that was filmed in one of the hotel’s elevators shows Lam behaving in a disturbing and unsettling manner. She is waving her hands around and seems to be looking left and right down the hallway, seemingly looking for somebody. As she frantically tries to press the buttons on the elevator doors, they won’t close. The video ends after Lam gives up and exits the elevator. But what happens as soon as she leaves? The elevator starts moving.

On February 2, 2013, it was reported that Lam had died after her body was discovered at the top of the hotel – in the water tank – after residents started to complain that the drinking water tasted a little off.

So… what exactly happened to Elisa Lam? Was her death the result of foul play? Was there somebody we couldn’t see on that elevator video? The official cause of death was listed as “accidental drowning”, but a lot of people agree that that doesn’t really make a lot of sense once you analyze all of the evidence.

Courtesy of Netflix

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a four-hour deep dive into many theories surrounding Elisa’s death and what could have possibly happened during her stay at the infamous hotel. This docuseries spends equal amounts of time exploring the roots of the Cecil Hotel as well as the mysterious events that happened while Lam was checked in.

The first couple of episodes are unfortunately not too interesting and they don’t cover any new ground. For people that are totally unfamiliar with the case, it may be a little bit intriguing and viewers could potentially find these first two episodes entertaining, but those that have even the smallest bit of understanding will find it a bit of a chore to watch.

And plus the show has a real issue of delving way too deep into conspiracy theories instead of focusing on actual facts. I get a bad feeling that some viewers may watch this show and come up with wild conspiracies of their own instead of looking at the facts and analyzing them for what they are.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly chilling moments in these first two episodes as well as some genuinely fascinating interviews sprinkled throughout. In fact, the interview segments may be my favorite part of Crime Scene, because they give you insight into what both the hotel’s employees and investigators are thinking.

Hearing both points of view adds up to a show that overall feels level-headed. The show doesn’t force you to side with the hotel or the theorizers. Instead, it does a good job of showing you both sides of the story and it leaves the decision up to you. If there was one person I wanted to hear more from, it would have to be Santiago Lopez, who was the person that first discovered Lam’s body in the water tank. We only spend a little bit of time with him, and I wanted to hear more of what he had to say.

The final two episodes are quite great, however, and they certainly make up for the less-than-stellar first two. It provides some closure to the story while also leaving the door open for viewers to come up with their own ideas. In fact, before watching this docuseries, I had no clue about what the story of singer Morbid was about. His story gets brought up in the final episodes and it angered me. I can’t talk about him too much without spoiling the show, but hearing his story was deeply interesting.

Despite the first two episodes being a little bit lackluster, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel overall makes for a chilling docuseries that encourages you, the viewer, to take what you know and conclude this case on your own. Some may find that frustrating, but I find it fascinating.

Overall Grade: B

Certificate: TV-MA

Cast: Tim Marcia, Amy Price, Josh Dean, Greg Kading, John Lordan, John Sobhani, Kim Cooper, Santiago Lopez, Doug Mungin, Kenneth Givens, Viveca Chow, Steven Thomas Gamble

Created by: Joe Berlinger

Network: Netflix

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