Docu-Series Review: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel


Over my four-day weekend, I was scrolling through Netflix to look for something interesting to watch and I saw “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” trending on Netflix Top 10 and all over my TikTok “ForYou page.” I decided to give it a try.

The docu-series, with its four 50-minute episodes, premiered Wednesday, Feb. 10.

The series focuses on the bizarre death of Elisa Lam that occured at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Skid Row, one of the most dangerous blocks in the U.S.

It was extremely interesting to watch, but true crime deals with real people, real families and real problems. The writers of the show basically exploited a tragic death for the sake of entertainment. They did not do a good job of telling Elisa Lam’s story, especially in regards to her mental illness.

Lam was a 21-year-old college student adventuring to Los Angeles in February of 2013. She disappeared at the hotel and was found dead in the water tank two weeks after her disappearance. After investigators released the security footage of Lam before she fanished, the case found national attention.

The hotel itself also has a dark past. The series includes information about the history of the hotel and other crimes and deaths that have occurred there.

Each episode chronicles who Lam is, how she ended up at the hotel and the outcome of her case.

The series introduced many of the faces behind the case such as the general manager of the Cecil Hotel, the lead detectives, possible suspects, Los Angeles historians, a psychologist, the medical examiner and some true crime junkies.

The series was directed by Joe Berlinger, who specializes in true crime documentaries. Berlinger’s ability to find so many different people to participate in this docu-series was excellent, but was executed extremely poorly.

The true crime junkies who had no credibility had far more screen time than the psychologist or the medical examiner who had more insightful and fact-based explanations about her cause of death.

The first three episodes basically drag the story along and include far-fetched conspiracies with no evidence to keep watchers watching.

The series has countless mentions of mental illness, and the case itself has a lot of links to it. With this, it carries a huge responsibility. Mental illness is something close to many people’s hearts, and isn’t something to play with and create false narratives out of.