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Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel [Review]

For any true crime fan, the case of Elisa Lam and the hotel with which she spent her final days have long been a topic of discussion. Everything from a massive government conspiracy to film parallels to ghosts, Lam’s strange case and the long, tumultuous history of The Cecil Hotel covers just about every facet of true crime investigation and internet sleuthing. “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” attempts to cover all of it in a span of 4 hour long episodes, and ultimately crumbles under the weight of its own ambitions.

For true crime fans, “Crime Scene” probably won’t be all that shocking or interesting. It doesn’t really provide any additional insight into the already bizarre case, and though it starts to dig into the more interesting aspects of the hotel’s history and location, it inevitably doesn’t go far enough to warrant its purpose. The docuseries seems to be confused about what it actually wants to be to satisfy those familiar with the case and will most certainly frustrate those who are not. This all may seem a bit too pejorative for a series that is actually filmed and paced relatively well, it just tries to do too much with too little and ultimately culminates in a rather unsatisfying conclusion.

See, when you strip away all the speculations, conspiracy theories, and strange and haunting history of the hotel itself, what you’re ultimately left with is a tragic accident brought about by even more tragic circumstances of untreated mental health. This would be fine if “Crime Scene” opted to focus more on those issues and how the hotel has long been a hub for the forgotten and disenfranchised all while actualizing the very dark side of Los Angeles. The series attempts this, but opts to focus on the wild theories the internet flooded Lam’s case with instead. While I understand why it was necessary to do so as this is the main reason why Elisa Lam’s case became so popular, it simply reinforced how much I absolutely HATE YouYubers.

Unlike “Don’t F*** With Cats” who used their sleuthing skills to follow the facts, the spiral of downright ridiculous theories surrounding Lam’s case with nothing but shallow speculation is exhausting and act more as red herrings in “Crime Scene” than things that matter. We spend 3 full episodes pulling on every string, no matter how bizarre, only to come to the inevitable conclusion that the most obvious and simple answer is in fact the right one. These youtubers are also extreme cyberbullies, and end up ruining the life of someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the case. The conspiracies theories are rampant, and while they’re worth mentioning, “Crime Scene” spends too much time pouring over them for nothing.

Crime Scene” wants to be a social commentary about Skid Row, a history of the notorious Cecil Hotel, a mental health analysis, an investigation into a missing person, and a critical analysis of conspiracy theories and what happens when internet youtubers run wild without restraint. If that all felt like a lot to read, it’s not any less to watch. It simply wants to do too many things at once, and spends too much time on the wrong things to be as compelling as it should be.

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I really wanted to like “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,” and director Joe Berlinger’s other works for Netflix like “Jeffery Epstein: Filthy Rich” and “The Ted Bundy Tapes” should have made this a surefire hit. Though shot beautifully, “Crime Scene” is ultimately too sprawling in its narrative approach to have anything meaningful to say. Which is really unfortunate, because there really is a lot to say here. Not just about Elisa Lam and what she was going through, but also about the city and the hotel itself.

Los Angeles is a dark and dangerous place, and “Crime Scene” opts to skim the surface of those facts, trading the more compelling elements of the environment for outlandish conspiracy theories championed by even worse youtubers.

Seriously, I hate youtubers.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

50%
Slow and Grim
  • Unsatisfying
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