‘Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’ Documentary Review

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel‘ is a four-part Netflix true-crime documentary directed by Joe Berlinger. It recounts the disturbing story of Elisa Lam who was tragically found dead on the premises and the surrounding mystery of her death.

Elisa Lam was a twenty-one-year-old Canadian student who arrived in Los Angeles as part of a “West Coast” tour of the United States. With little cash, she arrives at the Cecil Hotel, an infamous Skid Row hostel that housed sex offenders, gangsters, and serial killers. She kept folks informed through a blog and discussed her struggles with bipolar disorder. Then one day, she just vanished. After a nine-day search, a hotel maintenance worker discovers her body in the rooftop water tank. However, her movements, miscommunication, and a bizarre security camera video lead many to think there was a conspiracy afoot surrounding Lam’s tragic death.

The documentary’s production values were excellent. It did a good job with the music, newsreels, and presenting the facts of the case. As per the Netflix tradition, it disregards a narrator and allows the interview subjects to tell the story. I complained that their ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ remake felt like it moved into the exploitive territory, but this one avoids that and presents the story of Elisa Lam in a sensitive way that merely brings her story into focus.

The saddest story was the one of Pablo C. Vergara, known by his stage name of Morbid. Because of his “artistic” death metal lyrics and his stay at Cecil Hotel, some speculated that he murdered Elisa Lam. However, law enforcement never even considered him a suspect. He was innocent, but because of an online mob, he was harassed and eventually tried to take his own life. He survived to tell his tale, but he received no apologies from those who had tormented him. Now, the documentary tried to imply that the true crime YouTubers were behind or at least pushed him as a suspect, but most of those videos were made after he was cleared, and most acknowledged his innocence.

The investigators, law enforcement, experts, and web sleuths all bring the story to a new perspective, but through all of this, let us not forget that a young woman tragically lost her life. Elisa Lam could have been anyone and it is a shame that the Cecil Hotel was not held accountable for the “alleged” negligence that led to her death. Her family and her friends deserve the peace of mind after this tragedy.

Check out the trailer below:

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, check out my documentary reviews for A Wilderness of Error and Tiger. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.

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