Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
Anyone who has stumbled into the world of Internet mysteries has likely heard of LA’s infamous Cecil Hotel and the puzzling case of Elisa Lam. The young woman was found in one of the hotel’s water tanks and, after footage of her acting strangely in an elevator surfaced online, Lam’s disappearance caught the attention of the world and became one of the biggest unsolved enigmas in recent years. In the post-Making a Murderer boom of Netflix true crime, Lam’s case is the perfect subject for a new series, with its myriad conspiracy theories and links to the supernatural. Who better, then, to helm this project than The Ted Bundy Tapes’ Joe Berlinger.
Split over four hour-long episodes, The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel operates as any other by-the-numbers Netflix documentary: it recounts the investigation with a selection of soundbites delivered by a cast of talking heads, accompanied by dramatic recreations and archive footage. It even opens with an overly melodramatic overview of the series. Though the formula is far from groundbreaking, the premise alone is enough to grab viewers’ attention. People are fascinated by a good mystery, and in this case there’s no shortage of detail to enthral viewers. But, as the series highlights, there’s also a danger of being caught up in it.
While the show could easily have focused on the more sensationalised conspiracy theories associated with the case (a rabbit hole that leads to all sorts of bizarre connections that include, among other things, re-enacting J-horror Dark Water, government coverups, and biological weaponry), it wisely takes a more sophisticated approach to its subject matter. It is concerned primarily with the history of poverty that surrounds the hotel, rather than the crazy speculation of web sleuths, and the production goes a lot deeper than the story of a girl in an elevator. Perhaps more surprisingly, it becomes a touching allegory for mental illness and a stark warning about the dangers of unfounded speculation.
Regardless of how familiar viewers are with the tragedy of Elisa Lam’s fate, The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel presents a wholly captivating mystery, a fascinating investigation, and a mature reflection on the contributing factors related to the case. The show may finally close this Internet mystery.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is released digitally on demand on 10th February 2021.
Watch the trailer for Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel here: