CRIME SCENE: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a new Netflix docu-series. In other words, this is the Elisa Lam true-crime story. At least, that’s the “vanishing” the title refers to. However, it’s also the story of the Cecil Hotel. Read our full Crime Scene series review here!

CRIME SCENE: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a Netflix docu-series with four episodes. The “vanishing” is (of course!) the true-crime case of Elisa Lam. However, do expect that particular element to be dragged out quite a lot. If you’re familiar with the Elisa Lam case, then you’ll probably get fairly irritated with the very slow approach to this.

I know I was. Also, it should be noted that none of Elisa Lam’s family or real-life friends are part of this Netflix documentary series. Instead, you’ll see several YouTubers (or “websleuths”) telling you about Elisa Lam. A huge red flag, ultimately!

Continue reading our full Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel series review below. We watched all four episodes for this review.

The Elisa Lam true-crime case

If you’ve been looking forward to this Netflix Crime Scene docu-series about the vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, then my guess is you’re already familiar with the Elisa Lam case. If that’s the case, then get ready to watch four episodes re-hashing the same elevator clip over and over (and over and over) again. Episode after episode, while telling this story very slowly!

They literally spend most of the time wondering where she is. As if most of the viewers tuning in won’t already know how and where she was found. It’s the strangest thing really. Like watching a Ted Bundy documentary not “reveal” that he was a serial killer until the end.

However, having said that, I will say that I loved watching the actual manager of the Cecil Hotel talk about how she experienced things. Her name is Amy Price and I loved every second she was on the screen. As the former hotel manager of the Cecil Hotel during the Elisa Lam vanishing, she had actual facts and real stories to tell.

Also, only when Amy Price talked about the hotel, did I feel like I got more insight into the circumstance of the Elisa Lam case.

The police officers who worked in Los Angeles, but had nothing to do with the case, are totally irrelevant. Whereas the detective who did work on the case was interesting enough to listen to. Even if it did seem like they worked at a grotesquely slow pace.

And then there are the YouTubers…

Finally, there were all the self-professed “websleuths”. Or, you know, the YouTubers who released video after video professing that they disagreed with everyone from the family of Elisa Lam to the detectives and coroner. Surely they knew better and they still travel to the Cecil Hotel to “feel” and “understand” what happened to Elisa Lam.

You see, they feel like they knew her and they mourn what happened to her so much. It is sad and angering how much people can care about someone they have never meet. Also, be warned that they ultimately make up most of the screen-time during some episodes. Honestly, I couldn’t care less that some guy sitting at home has developed a crush on a girl he’ll never meet.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that “internet sleuths” can make an actual difference. The late Michelle McNamara did in the case of Golden State Killer. Watch the awesome I’ll Be Gone in the Dark docu-series on HBO (and read her book) to watch how to be an actual web sleuth. Also, Don’t F**k With Cats on Netflix is another brilliant example.

One or two of the YouTuber web sleuths in Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel are pretty good and serious as well. However, anyone more focused on making a new YouTube video rather than leaving their home and actually investigating the case will never compare to the above-mentioned examples.

They’re YouTubers first, actual truthseekers second, and it’s all too obvious!

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel - Netflix Review

Will there be more Crime Scene seasons?

Yes, it would appear that Netflix plans on making more Crime Scene seasons and I would certainly welcome them. If they plan on speaking to family and/or loved ones featured in the true-crime cases. This season about Elisa Lam (which is hidden under the “Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” title) was a mess from the beginning until the very end.

It’s the perfect example of why some people loathe true-crime as much as other people love these documentaries. I love true-crime when it’s done right. To be frank, the fictional account of the Kim Wall case in The Investigation series on HBO Max now feels much more realistic and factually correct than this Netflix “docu-series”.

Also, the way the Crime Scene documentary series was created is exactly why I loved the American Murder: The Family Next Door documentary on Netflix. 

Recommended reading – and watching: The American Murder: The Family Next Door docu-film on Netflix >

For that particular documentary film, only actual footage from the police and the news was used. For that purpose, only people who were actually involved with the people of the case were interviewed by either police or media. As opposed to this new docu-series made up mostly by YouTubers who felt they “knew Elisa Lam” after they heard she had vanished.

Watch Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel offers little new information to those already familiar with the Elisa Lam case. That particular element of this true-crime documentary series is mostly speculative. However, I did enjoy the background information of the Cecil Hotel. Including the entire history of this hotel.

Probably because the people being interviewed about the Cecil Hotel knew what they were talking about. They weren’t YouTubers or other people trying to get their 15 minutes of fame on the back of a tragedy. They either told the story of the hotel or focused on the extremely rough Skidrow area where the hotel is located. 

Also, my biggest pet peeve was when they had an actor read the Tumblr posts of Elisa Lam out loud. No, just no!

It is impossible to know what Elisa Lam felt when she wrote a 5 or 15 words long post on Tumblr. However, when an actor then reads out these posts with one particular emotion, this becomes the truth. And it simply isn’t. Dramatization gone terribly wrong is what it is!

Bottom line: You’ll probably watch it for the Elisa Lam story, but just don’t expect to learn much new.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is out on Netflix worldwide from February 10, 2021.

Plot

The four-episode season comes from executive producer and director Joe Berlinger, who sets out to deconstruct what really happened to college student and tourist Lam, who stayed at the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles in February 2013. When Lam vanished, leaving behind all of her possessions, including her wallet and ID in her hotel room, it ignited a media frenzy and mobilized a community of internet detectives who had suspicions about the last-known security camera footage released of her, as well as of some of the other people staying in the hotel. The docuseries features interviews with hotel employees and guests, as well as with some of those who investigated the case.

I write reviews and recaps on Heaven of Horror. And yes, it does happen that I find myself screaming, when watching a good horror movie. I love psychological horror, survival horror and kick-ass women. Also, I have a huge soft spot for a good horror-comedy. Oh yeah, and I absolutely HATE when animals are harmed in movies, so I will immediately think less of any movie, where animals are harmed for entertainment (even if the animals are just really good actors). Fortunately, horror doesn't use this nearly as much as comedy. And people assume horror lovers are the messed up ones. Go figure!
Karina