Netflix usually does a good job when it comes to dramatising a “real crime story”. However, it went too far over the weekend, with the premier of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.
While the docuseries quickly jumped to the top on the streaming platform, probably thanks to the famous backstory and a thrilling trailer, it is actually a bad production that botches a notorious tragedy.
The four-part docuseries focusses on the famous case of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian college student who travelled from Vancouver down the coast in 2013, ending up at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. In late January that year, she disappeared and thousands of people online became obsessed with the case, trying to figure out what happened to her. Her body was found in the hotel’s water tank almost three weeks later.
The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel features stories and comments from detectives, the hotel manager and the “online investigators” on Lam’s disappearance as well as the conspiracy theories circulating around the case. Most of the show focusses on an elevator security video in which Lam appears to be acting very unusually, pushing all of the buttons, making wild hand movements and possibly talking to someone in the hall outside the elevator, which, inexplicably, doesn’t close while she is inside.
The obviously bad thing about The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is that it is dragged out into a four-hour-plus show that could have been explained in one hour. Even so, this would have been ok if the lengthy episodes answered some of the questions surrounding the mystery. However, they are regrettably redundant, only for the most part discussing the paranoid elevator footage and giving out information that can already be found on the internet.
To make it worse, the docuseries appears to lean more on the Cecil Hotel’s backstory as “a place where serial killers let their hair down” while the cinematography is trying to make the show as paranoia-inducing as possible. The result is something that is more similar to “American Horror Story” than a true-crime story.
The worst part about The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is the fact that Joe Berlinger, the director, overdoes the dramatisation of the investigation on Lam’s disappearance and death. Instead of featuring expertise on the mental problems Lam was facing, including depression, the docuseries reveals comments from the so-called “online investigators” pretending to be forensic scientists or cult experts. It does not even feature comments from Lam’s family or friends and also hides some truths that could have debunked the conspiracy theories.
Making the docuseries entertaining may have hit the bull’s eye in terms of business, but to be honest, Netflix this time has really messed up a young woman’s tragedy.