One of the worst parts of traveling someplace new is the fear of booking a stay at an eerie hotel. Netflix’s new docuseries “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” will make you want to do a quick Google search before reserving a room at any hotel. The circumstances that prompted the investigation of this missing person are enough to scare you senseless. Through firsthand accounts, video footage and web sleuths, the series depicts the Cecil Hotel’s untold history, which may be responsible for a popular unsolved mystery.
“Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” explores the case of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian student who vanished in 2013 during her stay at one of the world’s most infamous hotels, located in the Skid Row neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles. Despite excessive investigative procedures by the Los Angeles Police Department and crime scene detectives, Elisa’s missing body was found in an unexpected place — the water tank on the roof. Was it an inside job? Could it have been a government test gone wrong? The number of conspiracies surrounding the case and the hotel itself makes this series a wild ride.
The hotel was notorious for murders, overdoses and suicides, so it’s no surprise that someone inside could be responsible. Or, as one of the many conspiracies states, there’s so much trapped negative energy in the hotel, it could have transferred to its guests and caused odd things to happen. But who’s to say that the hotel staff or its residents are responsible for Elisa Lam’s case? Haunted hotels are a thing, but are they it a significant factor in this occurrence?
A few times, the perspective shifts to Elisa’s background history. The series gives viewers time to approach her circumstances with empathy and sympathy, but it fails to survey Elisa’s character as a whole, which is significant to the case. Viewers will quickly realize that the sporadic trip to California was out of desperation; the need to explore the world and find herself consumed her. Elisa battled with depression and bipolar disorder, which is nothing out of the ordinary, but the series portrays many theories that ultimately blame Elisa’s mental health for her own fate.
After video footage of Elisa acting irrationally, waving and moving her hands in a circular motion and peeking in and out of the hotel elevator was released to the police department, detectives came to the conclusion that Elisa committed suicide as a result of being off her medication.
Even though the hotel is a significant factor in the case, the series spends too much time on the history and what-ifs of the hotel’s involvement. It delays the most important information for the final two episodes. That is, that the officials involved seemed more interested in the hotel than the actual whereabouts of Elisa. It depicts the nonchalance and lack of demeanor of those in charge.
The series also forms a cohesive example of confirmation bias. Despite the evidence, there was an extensive number of absurd conspiracies, ranging from Elisa being a test subject for tuberculosis who needed to be “silenced” to the murderer being a metal musician who once stayed at the Cecil Hotel. The series paints a picture of what it means to mix conspiracy theories with facts. “Crime Scene” is made up of the assumptions and opinions of the detectives and heavily invested online sleuths who failed to consider all the facts.
The case of Elisa Lam is considered solved, yet “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” illustrates that there is still more to be revealed. It allows the viewers to unleash their inner detectives and come up with their own premises about Elisa’s death and the events that went on in the hotel. It is not for the sensitive; however, it is an intriguing case to become immersed in.
Daily Arts Writer Jessica Curney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.